WASHINGTON – U.S. officials are reacting with disbelief towards Iraqi declarations of weapons program innocence, just days before Saddam Hussein's government is to give a detailed account of its development programs to the United Nations in compliance with a Security Council resolution passed last month.
Iraqi officials have already said that they will declare its arsenal on Saturday, a day before the U.N. deadline. They've also said that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction, either nuclear, chemical and biological, nor does it have long-range missiles.
"Because really, we have no weapons of mass destruction. Absolutely, no weapons of mass destruction," Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin, chief Iraqi liaison officer, said Wednesday.
But even Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has been the most reticent about criticizing Iraq throughout the U.N. inspections debate and process, said Iraq's proclamations can't be believed.
"It's a matter of record that Iraq has had weapons of mass destruction in the past. We are absolutely sure that they continue to develop weapons of mass destruction and we are sure that they have weapons of mass destruction [now]," Powell said Wednesday during a trip to Colombia.
Of course, no weapons have yet been found by inspectors, who have not been obstructed by the Iraqis in their search of presidential palaces and other suspected sites.
President Bush said Wednesday that he did not expect inspectors to find weapons.
"We've been doing this for five days after 11 years of deception and deceit. The process is just beginning," he said.
The president said his Monday comment that "so far, the signs are not encouraging" did not refer to the inspection process but to Saddam's changing his behavior.
Senior U.S. officials say they expect Saddam to provide thousands of documents on peripheral issues — dual-use equipment and commercial material of potential military use — rather than on the meat of the weapons programs, which U.S. intelligence already claims to know he possesses.
The thinking is that Saddam will send out the documents in an effort to shift the burden of proof to the United States, the official said.
Administration officials are watching all of Saddam's actions for some sign that he has made a strategic decision to back down and cooperate with the United Nations, even as he continues to fire at American and British planes in the no-fly zone and issue regular denunciations of the U.N. effort to disarm.
"One of my concerns is that, in the past, he has shot at our airplanes. Anybody who shoots at U.S. airplanes or British airplanes is not somebody who looks like he's interested in complying with disarmament," Bush said after a bill signing ceremony at the White House.
Bush would not agree with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's assessment that Iraqi authorities are showing good cooperation with the inspectors to date, saying once again what's important is not the inspection process, but the ultimate goal of Saddam's disarmament.
"The world will determine soon whether Saddam Hussein is going to do what we've asked," he said. "This is not a game anymore of 'Well, I'll say one thing and and do another.' We expect him to disarm."
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Wednesday that if Saddam lies in his declaration this weekend, that it won't immediately trigger a decision on U.S. military action.
Instead, the United States will likely follow up by sharing its intelligence with inspectors about where to look for weapons.
The United States is still in the process of getting agreements from nations to help out in a military action against Iraq, either for use of bases or to fly through other nations' airspace.
Turkey, which promised Tuesday to allow the U.S. to use its air bases to strike Iraq in the event of military action, backtracked on its commitment later in the day.
The Turkish foreign minister said that a second U.N. Security Council resolution would have to authorize military action and that public opposition would make it difficult to put a lot of U.S. troops on Turkish soil. Wolfowitz said that when it comes down to it, he expects the Turks, a founding NATO ally, to be on board.
Fox News' Jim Angle and Wendell Goler contributed to this report.