WASHINGTON – At CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., teams of U.S. specialists pored over the master copy of Iraq's 12,000-page weapons declaration Tuesday in hopes of gleaning new information on Baghdad's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.
Much of the material appeared to be recycled versions of earlier Iraqi reports, or dealt with weapons programs that existed years and even decades ago, officials said.
Bush administration officials said they hoped to share its preliminary findings with the chief U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix, by Friday, but cautioned that a full evaluation of the material — much of it in Arabic — could take weeks.
"We want to take a look at this in its entirety and see what it is that has been declared by Iraq, as well as to understand what may be not included in this document," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. "This process will be thoughtful, it will be deliberative and it will be careful."
Meanwhile, the Bush administration delivered full copies of the material to U.N. Security Council's other four permanent members — Britain, France, Russia and China — and said an edited version would be provided to the council's 10 other members as soon as possible.
That version will exclude "proliferation-sensitive information," said State Department spokesman Philip Reeker.
Russia and China got their copies in New York on Monday night, while Britain and France received their copies Tuesday in Washington. Other council members have complained about the process and the fact that they would get sanitized versions of the report.
Blix said in New York he planned to report to the Security Council early next week.
He is supposed to get first impressions from all five permanent council members — all declared nuclear powers — on Friday. Russia and China have already sent their copies of the material to their respective capitals, U.S. officials said.
The Iraqi government accused Washington on Tuesday of taking control of a U.N. master copy of Baghdad's arms declaration in order to tamper with it and create a pretext for war.
The council's only copy was taken to Washington on Monday night, with the approval of the council's current president, Colombian Ambassador Alfonso Valdivieso.
"This is unprecedented extortion in the history of the United Nations, when it (the United States) forced the president of the Security Council to give it the original copy of Iraq's declaration," the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said in a statement faxed to news organizations.
Fleischer, the White House spokesman, called that "a laughable statement" and said it "follows a disturbing pattern where Iraq looks at the combined actions of the world as spoken and expressed by the United Nations and condemns them."
Bush will be briefed on what is found in the voluminous submission, but the review of the documents is "still in very preliminary stages," Fleischer said.
The master copy was copied and broken up to be evaluated in sections by specialists gathered according to their areas of expertise.
Most of the work was going on at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., with specialists drawn from different government agencies, while some evaluation was being done elsewhere in the Washington area, officials said.
Bush met during the day with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of Turkey's new ruling political party. Turkey, Iraq's northern neighbor, could provide a critical staging area in any U.S.-led attack, but public opinion in Turkey runs overwhelmingly against letting the United States use military facilities there for that purpose.
Bush did not mention that issue when the meeting was open to reporters.
Discussion of Iraq was limited to talks on defusing the conflict through peaceful means, Erdogan said.
Secretary of State Colin Powell denounced Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, asserting in a French television interview, "He's a liar."
"We'll see now whether he decides that the cost of lying is too great. The cost of lying now might result in his regime being destroyed by the armed forces of the international community," he said during a Dec. 5 interview with France 2, a state-run station. The State Department released the transcript Tuesday.
Iraq has insisted it has no weapons of mass destruction. U.S. officials want to check those assertions and the material in the declaration against their own information on Iraq's weapons buildup.
The document also could provide important information on companies and countries that provided weapons technology and hardware to Iraq, potentially embarrassing some U.S. allies.