WASHINGTON – American officials plan to carefully check Iraq's weapons report against U.S. intelligence information that suggests Saddam Hussein has hundreds of tons of chemical weapons, the ability to produce biological weapons and an active nuclear weapons program.
U.S. officials doubt Iraq's disclosure to the United Nations due this weekend will be accurate, but say it may nonetheless prove useful — if nothing else, by allowing the Bush administration to catch Saddam in a lie. The report will be examined and compared on a site-by-site basis to U.S. information.
"The United States knows that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. The U.K. knows Iraq has weapons of mass weapons of destruction ... any country on the face of the earth that has an active intelligence program knows Iraq has weapons of mass destruction," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters in a Tuesday briefing.
Campaigning Tuesday for the GOP candidate in Louisiana’s Senate run-off race scheduled for Saturday, President Bush said he continues to be skeptical about Saddam's intentions.
"We're not interested in hide-and-seek inside Iraq. The only question is ... will this man disarm?" Bush said. "The choice is his. And if he does not disarm, the United States of America will lead a coalition to disarm him."
Many U.S. defense and intelligence officials are convinced that Saddam has chemical and biological weapons and is actively seeking to obtain nuclear weapons. In their view, if inspections don't turn up any weapons, it could mean Saddam has simply managed to hide them successfully.
Iraq denies it has any weapons of mass destruction.
U.S. officials also acknowledge that international support for a war could be undercut if the United Nations does not find weapons.
While surprised that Iraq has provided easy access to U.N. inspectors thus far, officials said the likelihood that it will throw up roadblocks will increase as the inspectors conduct more visits, particularly on suspected weapon sites to which they have not sought access in the past.
Pentagon officials have already collected video from a Predator drone flying over southern Iraq last week that showed a truck moving up the road carrying an Iraqi spoon-rest radar, a mobile early warning radar used to track coalition planes patrolling the no-fly zone and used to guide missiles to shoot down those planes.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers said Iraq is parking these radars and other military equipment in civilian areas, using their own people as shields.
"It's a good example, I think, how the Iraqi regime places civilians at risk in a very conscious way. We passed on hitting this target just to avoid putting the Iraqi civilians in harm's way," Myers said.
Under a U.N. Security Council resolution unanimously approved last month, Iraq has until Sunday to declare all of its biological, chemical and nuclear weapon programs and any long-range missiles. Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed Al-Douri, said the declaration could be ready as early as Wednesday.
"We have repeated our position several times that we have nothing hidden," Al-Douri said.
Rumsfeld said that Iraq may choose any number of responses, ranging from an unqualified denial of weapons programs to saying most of such work had been destroyed by previous U.N. inspections and what little remained would be surrendered.
"They could come in and say, 'Yes, we used to have it. And almost all of it was destroyed, but, gee, look over here. We just figured out maybe there's a couple of more buckets of this and a couple more buckets of that. And here it is. You guys throw it away. Take care of it. And now we're clean,'" he said.
As for what action will happen should Iraq lie, Rumsfeld said the decision is up to the president and the U.N. Security Council.
Any information provided by Iraq or uncovered by inspectors will be compared to existing U.S. intelligence on a site-by-site basis, officials said. That same intelligence would be used to draw up target lists for any U.S. strikes.
Hundreds of sites are of interest to U.S. intelligence and U.N. inspectors, from factories to labs to missile plants.
The CIA's Case Against Iraq
In October, the CIA released an unclassified paper summarizing its information on Iraq's weapons program. It accused Saddam of possessing chemical and biological weapons — and prohibited long-range missiles to deliver them. It also said Saddam has a program to enrich uranium for use in a nuclear weapon and may have acquired some components for that program.
His weapons cannot reach the United States unless he uses covert operatives to deliver them in terrorist-like strikes. Instead, U.S. officials say the greatest direct threat from Iraq's weapons is to U.S. troops in the Middle East and to Israel, but Saddam will probably only use them if he is cornered. Bush has said he fears Saddam will supply the weapons to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.
Biological weapons programs, including anthrax and ricin toxin, are of particular concern.
Iraq's ability to produce the agents has grown in the past decade, despite sanctions, U.S. bombings and U.N. inspections, the CIA report states.
Baghdad has also renewed production of several chemical agents, probably including mustard, sarin, cyclosarin and VX, the report says. Mustard is a World War I-era blister agent; sarin, cyclosarin and VX are deadly nerve agents.
Saddam probably has stockpiled between 110 and 550 tons of chemical weapons, the report says. However, Iraq's ability to produce and store chemical weapons is probably less than it was before the Persian Gulf War, thanks to inspections, it says.
Iraq has been able to pay for these programs with money diverted from humanitarian aid programs and from oil smuggling, the report reads.
Fox News' Bret Baier and The Associated Press contributed to this report.