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White House document says Iraq hasn't accounted for biological agents

WASHINGTON—The Bush administration on Thursday rolled out its most detailed evidence yet in an effort to document why it believes Iraq retains illicit weapons of mass destruction and is hiding the evidence.

The White House issued an eight-page "white paper" asserting that United Nations officials have concluded that Iraq has not adequately accounted for more than 2.38 tons of biological agents it formerly possessed. That's enough, the paper said, to produce 6,868 gallons of anthrax, or three times as much as Iraq has admitted to possessing; 317 gallons of botulinum toxin; and 581 gallons of aflatoxin, a carcinogen.

In 1999, the document says, U.N. inspectors concluded that Iraq hadn't accounted for 1.5 tons of VX, a powerful nerve agent, and that it had made missile warheads that could contain enough VX "to kill up to 1 million people."

Last week U.N. inspectors discovered 12 empty missile warheads hidden in Iraq, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice called that "particularly troubling" Thursday because Iraq has packed such warheads with nerve gas in the past. Her comments came in an opinion article published in the New York Times, headlined, "Why We Know Iraq Is Lying."

Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw appeared together at a joint news conference in Washington to emphasize that the United States and Great Britain stand united as the confrontation over Iraq heads into a potentially decisive phase.

U.N. arms inspectors will report to the U.N. Security Council on Monday about their progress after two months of work in Iraq, and President Bush will lay out his policy Tuesday night in his annual State of the Union address before Congress.

"If it can't be solved peacefully and if the U.N. should fail to act . . . then the United States reserves the right to do what it thinks appropriate to defend its interests," Powell said. "I don't think we will have to worry about going it alone. I think the case is clear. I'm sure we have a strong coalition."

Opinion polls show that a majority of Americans don't want to go to war with Iraq without support from the United Nations and major U.S. allies. The Bush administration's moves Thursday were intended to reassure the public that Washington won't charge off to war alone or without cause.

Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld briefed senators Thursday afternoon in response to growing concern on Capitol Hill that the administration is moving too fast and should give U.N. inspections more time.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said a U.S.-led coalition against Iraq could include Britain, Italy, Spain, various Eastern European nations and Australia. "This will be, if the president makes a determination to proceed, widely multilateral," Fleischer said.

Straw, standing with Powell, added that "there are still ways that this can be resolved peacefully."

Iraq's nervous next-door neighbors met in Istanbul, Turkey, on Thursday night and issued a statement calling on Baghdad to cooperate fully with U.N. weapons inspectors.

"The countries of this region do not wish to live through yet another war and all its devastating consequences," the statement said. "We solemnly call on the Iraqi leadership to move irreversibly and sincerely toward assuming their responsibilities in restoring peace and stability in the region."

The gathering brought together the foreign ministers from five of the six nations that border Iraq—host Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Iran. Kuwait, the sixth neighbor, was not represented.

Turkey, a longtime American ally and the only predominantly Muslim member of NATO, has emerged as a key piece in a possible invasion strategy by the U.S. military. War planners would like to base tens of thousands of American troops in Turkey to create a second front that would squeeze Iraq from the north.

Turkey increasingly finds itself caught between America, its traditional ally and protector, and the European Union, which it desperately aspires—and for economic reasons, needs—to join.

France and Germany blocked NATO's participation in a possible war, at least for now, thereby depriving Turkey of the political cover it needs domestically to grant permission to put 15,000 to 20,000 American troops on its border with Iraq. Blocking U.N. Security Council support for war, as France has threatened to do, would compound Ankara's political problems.

Although the United States may prevail, either by strong-arming the Turks or by going to war without them, this is the first case in the post-Cold War era in which Europe has presented a serious counterweight to American power in a major international crisis.

Recent polls show that 80 percent of Turks oppose a military strike against Iraq and just 10 percent are willing to have new U.S. troops deployed on Turkish soil. There have been large peace demonstrations all across Turkey in recent days, unusual for a country that is notoriously intolerant of public displays of political emotion.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz pressed the administration's case in a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He argued that disarming Saddam is a "crucial part of winning the war on terror" and emphasized that it is the Iraqi leader's responsibility to prove to the world that he has complied with the U.N. mandate to disarm.

Wolfowitz added the charge that the United States has learned "from multiple sources that Saddam has ordered that any scientist who cooperates during interviews will be killed, as well as their families."

The White House document asserts that Iraq has failed to account for nearly 30,000 empty munitions that could be filled with chemical agents and 550 mustard gas-filled shells and 400 bombs capable of carrying biological weapons. The document alleges that Iraq has enlisted thousands of security personnel to thwart the 200 U.N. inspectors and intimidate witnesses.

The Bush administration's stepped-up campaign came one day after the leaders of France and Germany said they didn't support war against Iraq. Officials and ordinary citizens in both countries were incensed Thursday by remarks the previous day from Rumsfeld dismissing both nations as "old Europe." He said that lots of East European nations stood strong with Washington against Iraq.

French Economics Minister Francis Mer said he was "deeply vexed" by Rumsfeld's remarks.

"I wanted to remind everyone that the `old Europe' still has some spring, and is capable of bouncing back," Mer told LCI television. "And it will show, in time."

France and Germany are hardly alone in opposing war against Iraq at this time. Russia and China also have said that the U.N. inspection process needs more time, as have many members of Congress, both Democratic and Republican.

"While American security must never be ceded to any institution or to another institution's decision, I say to the president, show respect for the process of international diplomacy," said Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. "Do not rush to war," Kerry said in a speech Thursday billed by his aides as a major address.

Former President Clinton weighed in Thursday as well, saying the United States should take its cue from the U.N. weapons inspectors or make a case for going to war alone. He added that the White House couldn't take the prospect of a unilateral strike on Iraq "totally off the table."

"If there is going to be a military conflict here, the rest of the world and most Americans need to feel that the inspections were undertaken in good faith and that they have shown us something, this process has shown us something which justifies the conflict," said Clinton. "But there might be all kinds of things I don't know here." He spoke in Washington after a speech to consumer health-care activists.


(Knight Ridder correspondent Jodi Enda contributed to this report.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):

Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz