UNITED NATIONS – Iraq is in "material breach" of the U.N.'s order that it destroy its weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said Thursday.
U.N. Ambassador John Negroponte said Iraq's 12,000-page arms declaration "is just one more act of deception in a history of lies from a defiant dictator."
He said that "material omissions" in the declaration "constitute another material breach."
The use of the term "material breach" is significant, because it can be used as justification to go to war. U.S. officials, however, have said that using the term at this stage does not signify that an attack is imminent.
"We informed the [Security] Council that we were deeply disappointed," Negroponte said after Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector Hans Blix delivered a preliminary briefing on its findings to the 15 council members.
"The Dec. 7 declaration clearly shows that Iraq has spurned its last opportunity.... The declaration fails to address scores of questions pending since 1998. It seeks to deceive when it says Iraq has no ongoing weapons of mass destruction programs."
Negroponte said Iraq was "falling back on the regime's practice of omissions, evasions and untruths," and said most of the 12,000 pages in its declaration were "simply rehash."
The ambassador spoke after Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, provided the Security Council with initial assessments of Iraq's declaration.
Iraq's deputy U.N. Ambassador Munim Al-Kadhe dismissed the U.S. charges as "baseless," saying: "I would like to confirm that the Iraqi declaration is complete and comprehensive." He said it can be verified on the ground by U.N. inspectors.
But Blix noted inconsistencies in the biological area, noting that the latest report did not include a table that Iraq submitted previously.
"This table has been omitted from the current declaration and the reasons for the omission need to be explained," Blix told the council, according to his briefing notes.
Also, he said Iraq was using chemical equipment destroyed by inspectors before they left in December 1998 and was developing a missile known as the Al Samoud with a range, in 13 flight tests, that exceeded the range permitted under U.N. resolutions.
ElBaradei said Iraq needed to provide answers and evidence regarding Iraq's recent purchase of aluminum tubes. The top U.N. nuclear inspector also found little new in the 12,000-page declaration.
The Bush administration is denouncing gaps, omissions and other major troubles with the Iraqi weapons declaration, setting the United States on a course to possible war with Saddam Hussein early next year.
Speaking after the meeting, both Blix and ElBaradei complained about the quality of Iraq's report.
"An opportunity was missed in the declaration to give a lot of evidence," Blix said. "They can still provide it orally, but it would have been better if it was in the declaration."
ElBaradei noted that the Iraqis have been opening doors for inspectors on the ground but said: "We have not gotten what we need in terms of additional evidence."
The comments were based on initial assessments, and both men said they would need more time to review the entire declaration.
In Baghdad, Iraqi officials said it was the United States, and not Iraq, that needed to worry about the assessments.
"It's the other party that's worried because there's nothing to pin on us," Iraqi general Amir al-Saadi said. He said it was natural U.N. experts would see little new in the declaration because Iraq hasn't restarted weapons programs in the time since their last declarations.
Assistant Secretary of State John Wolf and Negroponte met Blix on Tuesday to discuss gaps in the declaration, and Negroponte had another meeting with the chief inspector on Wednesday.
In preparing its declaration, Iraq had a list of outstanding questions prepared by the former U.N. inspection agency and by an international panel of experts. Inspectors left Baghdad in December 1998 and Iraq barred them from returning until last month.
The unanswered questions included: How much anthrax did Iraq actually produce, and was it all destroyed as Baghdad claims? Where are 550 artillery shells that it filled with mustard gas? Why were no remnants found of warheads for 50 long-range missiles that Iraq said it destroyed? What happened to all the deadly VX nerve agent that Iraq produced?
The report by former chief inspector Richard Butler listed biological agents Iraq produced including deadly botulinum toxin, anthrax and ricin; gangrene gas, which rots flesh; and aflatoxin, which causes liver cancer. Baghdad also said it did research on rotavirus, which causes diarrhea; and hemorrhage conjunctivitis virus, which effects the eyes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.