WASHINGTON – After reviewing the 12,000-page Iraq weapons declaration this week, the Bush administration has concluded that the report fails to give insight into missing chemical and biological agents from when inspectors were expelled from Iraq four years ago, U.S. officials said Thursday night.
Iraq used the lengthy document to support its contention that Saddam Hussein's regime has no weapons of mass destruction, the officials said, putting President Bush in the position to make a string of critical decisions. The U.S. has long disputed Iraq's claim that they possess no mass destruction weapons.
White House officials refused comment on the assessment, first reported by The New York Times. However, Bush himself told ABC News his gut feeling about Saddam Hussein is that "he is a man who deceives, denies."
Bush's options include seeking more information from Iraq, a route White House officials said earlier Thursday the president would not take. He views the declaration, required under a U.S.-backed United Nations resolution that also forced inspectors back into Iraq, as Saddam's last chance to come clean, they said.
Bush also could feed U.S. intelligence on suspected weapons programs to U.N. inspectors, helping the world body attempt to prove that Saddam is lying in the declaration, officials said.
And he could declare after a more thorough review of the declaration that Saddam is in "material breach" of the resolution, and that war is required to disarm him, officials said.
The latter step, favored by hard-liners in the administration, would likely draw condemnation from U.S. allies who want proof that Saddam is a threat.
Under the terms of Resolution 1441, false statements or omissions in the declaration — coupled with a failure to comply with inspections — would be a "material breach" of Iraq's obligations. Newly admitted weapons inspectors have not publicly accused Iraq of failing to comply.
But U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the declaration is full of holes. It does not explain a number of Iraqi acquisitions that the U.S. suspects are related to Saddam's nuclear program, officials said. These include the purchase of uranium in Africa, officials said, as well as purchases in Western countries of high-tech equipment that could be used in uranium enrichment.
The report largely rehashes old Iraqi declarations and contains little new information, officials said. It has done nothing to alter the U.S. assessment that Iraq possesses chemical and biological weapons and is pursuing nuclear weapons, officials said.
The United States and Russia turned in their preliminary assessments Thursday to chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and ElBaradei Mohamed of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Three other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Britain, France and China, are supposed to provide their assessments as well by Friday.
Blix and ElBaradei then will remove sensitive sections of the declaration and distribute copies Monday to the 10 other members of the Council.
Iraq has insisted it has no weapons of mass destruction. The declaration is known to contain information about a nuclear weapons program undertaken more than a decade ago.
The sensitive parts of the voluminous declaration turned in by Iraq last weekend could provide a trail leading from supplier countries to the arsenal the United States insists Iraq has hidden.
That information will not be given to the 10 other countries under an agreement reached by the Bush administration with the United Nations.
Blix is due to report to the Security Council next Thursday.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, speaking in Qatar, rejected any suggestion the United States was eager for war with Iraq.
He said U.S. officials intend to spend the next few weeks scrutinizing the weapons declaration.
Rumsfeld said the declaration contained thousands of pages in two languages.
"It doesn't seem unreasonable for our people to look at it, read it and analyze it," he said.
In Washington, a former U.S. deputy ambassador to Baghdad, Joseph Wilson, said "muscular disarmament" was a workable alternative to invasion of Iraq.
"Should Saddam Hussein decide he doesn't want inspectors at a particular site it will be imperative to respond decisively at that site," Wilson said. "To ensure we have his full attention we should hit a high-value target associated with the site."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.