Powell Skeptical of Weapons Declaration

Published December 17, 2002

| Associated Press

Iraq's weapons declaration bears out U.S. skepticism that President Saddam Hussein would come clean, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday, adding that using force to disarm Saddam remains an option.

Powell withheld a detailed assessment of the declaration until chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix reports to the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, but said the declaration appears suspect. A senior White House official said the administration would have a reaction to the documents by the end of the week, but that no decision has been made on whether President Bush would publicly deliver it himself.

"We said at the very beginning that we approached it with skepticism, and the information I've received so far is that skepticism is well-founded," Powell said in his first public comments on the declaration.

Powell told reporters at the State Department that the United States was in consultation with international weapons inspectors and other Security Council members on what to do next.

If Iraq refuses to disarm, Powell said, "The international community has an obligation to act and do whatever is necessary to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, and that includes the use of military force."

Iraq has denied harboring chemical and biological weapons and having programs to develop nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

Last week, Bush administration officials dismissed the 12,000-page declaration as woefully short of facts. "We know that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and has programs to create more," the State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday.

The Pentagon has intensified its propaganda campaign against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein with broadcasts of radio messages to his military commanders and to the Iraqi people.

Transmitted by U.S. planes flying over northern Iraq, the broadcasts launched last Thursday urge the Iraqi people not to support their president and accuse him of diverting revenue from oil sales to weapons purchases instead of food.

At the White House, presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer said the declaration filed by Iraq "can be the difference between war and peace."

Fleischer also renewed a call for U.N. weapons inspectors to interview Iraqi scientists.

"There are people inside Iraq who are dedicated to peace, who would like to talk, have knowledge that they would like to share, and it's in the interests of the world to hear their facts," Fleischer said.

Powell assured the Arab world that the Bush administration aims at Iraq's disarmament, not ousting Saddam Hussein.

"If he cooperates, then the basis of changed-regime policy has shifted because his regime has, in fact, changed its policy to one of cooperation," Powell said in an interview with a London-based Arab newspaper released Monday by the State Department.

"It remains our policy to change the regime until such time as the regime changes itself," he said.

Powell spoke between rounds of talks with Japan's defense and foreign ministers at the State Department.

The main topic at the annual meeting was a diplomatic crisis caused by signs that North Korea plans to resume enrichment of fuel for nuclear weapons and steps to reopen shuttered nuclear weapons facilities.

Powell and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz used the occasion also to sound out the Japanese on supporting the U.S. offensive against Iraq.

Foreign Minister Yorki Kawaguchi said at the news conference that "peaceful resolution is most desirable."

But, she said, Japan considers the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as a challenge for the entire international community.

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