WASHINGTON – President Bush is withholding a public appraisal of Iraq's recently submitted declaration on its weapons programs, but aides say he may respond next week, probably in a formal speech.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday the administration's review of the declaration had not been completed, and Bush would speak only after he has received more information.
The State Department, meanwhile, dismissed the declaration as short of facts. "We know that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and has programs to create more," spokesman Richard Boucher said.
"What's not in the document may be as important as what is in the document," he said.
The 12,000-page declaration to the United Nations does not account for a number of missing chemical and biological weapons and fails to explain purchases of equipment for a nuclear arms program, U.S. officials said.
Russia, which submitted its own assessment of the Iraqi report, sent a delegation headed by Dmitry Rogozin, chairman of the international affairs committee of the Russian parliament, to Washington for talks.
After calling on Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, another Russian official said there was no possibility Russia would provide troops to help in any conflict with Iraq but other possible forms of aid were an open question.
Britain, France and China also have seen the declaration and are assessing it. Early next week, copies will be given to the 10 other, nonpermanent, members of the U.N. Security Council, with sensitive sections deleted.
Next Thursday the council is to hear from chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix at a meeting that could launch consideration of using force to disarm Iraq.
Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called the Iraqi declaration "a bogus report" and said: "I don't know how you could put any credibility in it."
In Vienna, Austria, the head of the U.N. nuclear control agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, said there was little new in the 2,400-page nuclear portion of Iraq's report. He told reporters the only new material was contained in about 300 pages of Arabic text, which had not been fully translated.
Iraq used the lengthy document to support President Saddam Hussein's contention that he has no hidden weapons of mass destruction, U.S. officials said.