Published December 22, 2002
WASHINGTON – Saddam Hussein's adviser Amir al-Saadi on Sunday invited the CIA to send its agents to Iraq to point out to U.N. inspectors sites the Bush administration suspects of weapons development.
Al-Saadi also said during a news conference in Baghdad that Iraq was prepared to answer any questions raised by the United States and Britain.
"We are ready to deal with each of those questions if you ask us," he said.
Al-Saadi complained that Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw based their criticisms of Iraq's weapons declaration on "old, rehashed reports" from what he called the previous "discredited" arms inspection program in the 1990s.
As the United Nations increases the number of weapons inspectors in Iraq, the United States will provide the experts with more detailed intelligence, American officials said.
Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix urged the U.S. and Britain to hand over any additional evidence they have about Iraq's secret weapons programs. The Bush administration has already been providing the inspectors with information about Iraqi weapons sites, officials said.
Blix said the inspectors need additional intelligence because Iraq's declaration on the state of its weapons programs leaves so many unanswered questions that it is impossible to say whether its claim to have no weapons of mass destruction is accurate.
The United States and Britain have given briefings to inspectors on what they think the Iraqis have, but what inspectors really want to know is where weapons-related material is stored, Blix told the BBC.
President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, wants 250 to 300 inspectors on the ground in Iraq, though the United States has not specified a time frame, a senior administration official said Saturday. The number of inspectors increased to 113 with the arrival of 15 more last week.
Meanwhile, U.N. weapons inspectors set out Sunday morning for searches at five sites, according to Iraqi officials. One was identified as a space research center. Another, al-Kindi Co., was identified in the final report of U.N . weapons inspectors who worked in Iraq in the 1990s as having had a role in Iraq's biological weapons programs.
U.N. officials had no immediate comment on Sunday's searches.
One U.S. official said the administration was reluctant to provide information as detailed as the United Nations seeks for fear that inspectors would not be able to act immediately on it.
U.S. intelligence officials are also concerned that information could leak, jeopardizing information-gathering sources and other methods. The Pentagon fears that handing over such intelligence could tip off Iraq on likely bombing targets.
Blix said he planned to give the United States and Britain assurances that intelligence material would be protected. He said his inspectors, who are searching for chemical, biological and long-range missile programs, have between 500 and 1,000 sites to visit.
The administration's current strategy is to increase pressure on inspectors to seek interviews with Iraqi weapons scientists outside of Iraq to gain new intelligence and provide evidence that could be used against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.