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Bush says Iraq's weapons declaration falls far short

WASHINGTON—President Bush said Friday that Iraq's weapons declaration was a "long way" from what is required of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, as the United States moved on multiple fronts to increase the pressure on Baghdad.

A senior U.S. official said the Bush administration is considering making public more evidence of what it says is Iraq's covert weapons of mass destruction programs. The presentation would occur late next month or in early February, a timeframe officials have identified for Bush to make decisions about whether to go to war with Iraq.

The United States also was beginning to provide U.N. weapons inspections chief Hans Blix with American intelligence about Iraq's suspected weapons programs. The secret data is meant to guide inspections over the next month and bolster Bush's contention that Iraq is still hiding nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.

Blix on Thursday said Iraq's 12,000-page declaration of its weapons programs, which asserted they were no longer in existence, failed to answer questions about unaccounted-for weapons stocks.

Bush, commenting on the document's contents for the first time, said, "We expected (Saddam) to show that he would disarm, and ... it's a long way from there."

"Yesterday was a disappointing day for those who have longed for peace," the president said.

Bush spoke as he met with U.S., European, Russia and United Nations diplomats trying to craft a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. At U.S. and Israeli urging, the group agreed to put off finalizing its peace proposal until after Israel's elections on Jan. 28.

A U.N. Security Council resolution passed last month calls on Iraq to give up all weapons of mass destruction programs or face "serious consequences," diplomatic code for a U.S.-led invasion.

Many other Security Council members—and, according to polls, large sections of the U.S. public—do not believe Bush has presented indisputable evidence that Iraq is hiding prohibited weapons.

China said Friday it was not ready to follow the U.S. lead in condemning the Iraqi weapons declaration. "We still have issues to be clarified and we will further study" Blix's analysis, said Wang Yingfan, China's ambassador to the United Nations.

The senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Bush administration is preparing a list of Iraqi transgressions, which could be used to justify a U.S. strike.

"We are getting ready for an Adlai Stevenson moment," the official said, referring to the time in 1962 when Stevenson, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, presented photographs proving the Soviet Union had missile emplacements in Cuba.

There is an "accumulation of evidence we have that we haven't made public yet," the senior official said.

None of the evidence is likely to be as dramatic or clear-cut as 40 years ago, U.S. officials acknowledged.

And U.S. intelligence officials are reluctant to make public all they know, for fear of revealing their sources of information.

A debate about releasing more information publicly has not been settled, said a U.S. intelligence official.

The United States also is squeamish about sharing too much data with Blix's multinational inspection teams, fearing it might be compromised.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration continued to press Blix to interview Iraqi weapons scientists and, if necessary, take them and their families outside the country.

A National Security Council official, Will Toby, met recently with Blix's operations chief, Demetrius Perricos, to propose ways of conducting the interviews that would assuage Blix's concerns. Chief among those are fears that the scientists or their families could be put in danger.


(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Diego Ibarguen contributed to this report from the United Nations.)


(c) 2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.