WASHINGTON – Bush administration officials said Thursday they have a "solid basis" for asserting that the Iraqis do have weapons of mass destruction despite Iraqi claims to the contrary.
"The president of the United States and the secretary of defense would not assert as plainly and bluntly as they have that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction if it were not true, and if they did not have a solid basis for saying it," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. "The Iraqi government has proved time and time again to deceive, to mislead and to lie."
On Wednesday, U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, said Iraqi proclamations that it is clean of weapons can't be believed and they know so because they have the evidence to prove it.
"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 during a trip to Colombia.
Fleischer would not say what evidence the United States has collected, but said President Bush is "not encouraged by Iraq's compliance" in the first week of new weapons inspections.
Meeting in the Cabinet room Thursday, Bush spoke with the prime minister of Ethiopia and the outgoing president of Kenya, one week after homicide bombers in that latter country claimed 13 lives in two coordinated attacks.
The president expressed his condolences and gave little indication that he had changed his opinion about Iraq's lack of cooperation. Asked whether the United States would go to war, Bush replied, "That's a question you should ask to Saddam Hussein."
On Saturday, in compliance with the U.N. Security Resolution, Iraq will turn over its declaration documenting its weapons program, a document that U.S. officials say they expect will be thousands of pages long and refer to peripheral issues in an effort to throw the scent off investigators and U.N. diplomats and place the burden on the United States to prove that it has no weapons.
Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz told ABC News that his country will declare that it has materials that could be used for dual purposes but has no weapons made of biological, chemical or nuclear materials.
Fleischer called Aziz's statement "as false as statements that Iraq made in the late '90s when they said they had no weapons of mass destruction, when it was found they indeed did."
Bush said that the Iraqis have done nothing so far that would indicate compliance with U.N. resolutions demanding that he disarm.
"For the sake of peace, he must disarm. There are inspectors inside the country now and the inspectors are there not to play a game of hide and seek. They're there to verify whether or not Mr. Saddam Hussein is going to disarm," he said.
The United States has left open several options in case Iraq's declaration is patently false. It can give U.S. intelligence to the inspectors, which Fleischer confirmed the U.S. will do, it can seek U.N. Security Council support for use of force, or if the Security Council hems and haws, it can seek to form a coalition of the willing to force Iraq to comply.
Fleischer said U.N. weapons inspectors should not have access to all U.S. intelligence because they "are not a sovereign government" though the Iraqis already have accused the weapons inspectors of being spies and staging a surprise search on Wednesday of a presidential palace as a provocation that could lead to war.
Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said the new teams are gathering intelligence for Israel and Washington, a claim that the White House dismissed as another indication that Iraq is refusing to cooperate with the inspectors.
Fox News' James Rosen and the Associated Press contributed to this report.