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Iraq Denies Seeking Nuclear Weapons

Iraq said Sunday reports President Saddam Hussein is trying to collect nuclear material and building up sites once targeted by U.N. weapons inspectors are part of a U.S. and British campaign of "lies and lies."

Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, meeting with reporters in Baghdad, was asked about the head of a U.N. atomic weapons team saying Friday that satellite photos show new construction at several sites linked to Saddam's past nuclear efforts.

Ramadan was also asked about a U.S. intelligence official saying Saturday Iraq has recently stepped up attempts to import industrial equipment that could be used to enrich uranium for use in nuclear weapons.

"There is no such a thing," Ramadan said, accusing the United States and Britain of seeking an excuse to attack Iraq.

"They are telling lies and lies to make others believe them."

On Saturday, U.S. President George W. Bush, who is looking for a way to topple Saddam, said satellite images of the construction was ample evidence the Iraqi leader is developing weapons of mass destruction.

"I don't know what more evidence we need" to make the case for taking action against the Iraqi president, Bush said as he welcomed British Prime Minister Tony Blair at Camp David for a weekend strategy session on Iraq.

Blair, returning to Britain Sunday, said America and Britain would rally "the broadest possible international support" for action to stop Saddam from maintaining biological and chemical weapons or acquiring nuclear arms.

Blair faces strong opposition to military action at home. Sunday, he told reporters some of the anti-war voices were asking "sensible questions" and could be convinced of the need to take action — possibly military — against Saddam.

Bush later this week is scheduled to address the United Nations, where he is expected to challenge the international community to take quick, tough action to disarm Saddam or the United States will be obligated to act on its own to remove Saddam.

In Europe and the Middle East, Iraq is being pressed to accept U.N. weapons inspectors in hopes of defusing the crisis. Sunday in Iraq, former weapons inspector Scott Ritter — who has been a sharp critic of U.S. policy on Iraq — joined those calls.

Iraq's cooperation on inspections would leave the United States "standing alone in regards to war threats on Iraq and this is the best way to prevent the war," said the American, who spoke to members of parliament and to journalists on his third trip to Iraq since he resigned from the U.N. inspection team in 1998.

As in the past, Ritter's trip was organized by the Iraqi government.

"The truth is Iraq is not a threat to its neighbors and it is not acting in a manner which threatens anyone outside its borders," Ritter said. "Military action against Iraq cannot be justified."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell disputed Ritter's comments on Fox News Sunday, saying the remarks had came from "somebody who's not in the intelligence chain any longer."

"Why don't they [the Iraqis] say any time, any place, anywhere, bring them [the inspectors] in, everybody come in, we are clean?" Powell said. "The reason is, they're not clean. And we have to find out what they have and what we're going to do about it."

Other members of U.N. teams that investigated Iraq's weapons of mass destruction from 1991 to 1998 have told The Associated Press that Iraq probably possesses large stockpiles of nerve agents, mustard gas and anthrax. They add that while Baghdad does not have a nuclear bomb, it has the designs, equipment and expertise to build one quickly if it were able to get enough weapons-grade uranium or plutonium.

Many former inspectors say Iraq's arsenal poses little threat because Saddam has been deterred so far by fear of U.S. retaliation and apparently has been reluctant to share his weapons with terrorists.

Iraq, while denying it has banned weapons, has offered only to continue dialogue with the United Nations about the return of inspectors. It has not responded to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's demand that inspectors be allowed to return unconditionally as a first step to further talks.

"We want to maintain dialogue only with the United Nations without the pressuring of a certain country," said Ramadan, the vice president. "If the United States attacks Iraq not only Arabs but the whole world will oppose it, if they have one enemy today then there will be 10 more."

The inspectors left Iraq ahead of U.S.-British strikes in December 1998 and they have been barred from returning since then.

Sanctions imposed on Iraq for its 1990 invasion of neighboring Kuwait cannot be lifted until U.N. inspectors certify that the country has surrendered nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the missiles to deliver them.