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Weapons Inspections Report Q&A

Some may interpret the report as a justification for war, others as an argument against.

On Monday, after 60 days of searching, United Nations inspectors will describe to the U.N. Security Council what prohibited weapons they have found in Iraq. By many accounts, it will be very few.

But the Bush administration, which believes weapons of mass destruction are present but hidden, may take it as a cause for military action nonetheless. Other countries are not so certain, and President Bush is sure to address the topic in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

Some questions and answers about Monday's report and its implications:

Q: What will it look like and what will it say?

A: It will actually be two reports -- one from the U.N. body investigating Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's chemical, biological and missile programs, and the other from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is looking at his nuclear programs.

A spokesman for nuclear agency said Friday that Iraq will receive "quite satisfactory" grades in that report.

The other report is expected to generally praise the access Iraq has given inspectors, but may criticize some specific roadblocks they have encountered. It is also expected to note the 16 empty chemical warheads found by inspectors in recent weeks.

Neither is expected to contain any conclusive evidence on whether Iraq has a large weapons of mass destruction program.

Q: How will the reports be interpreted?

A: The Bush administration, convinced Saddam has a large covert effort to develop prohibited chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, has framed the inspection process as Saddam's final chance to acknowledge his weapons programs and disarm. The White House is likely to interpret what is in the report -- and what is not in it -- as evidence he has not disarmed.

Skeptical nations, including allies like France, are looking for proof.

One key issue is the whereabouts of thousands of weapons that previous U.N. inspectors concluded Iraq had not accounted for.

According to Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, this includes 30,000 chemical warheads, 550 artillery shells filled with mustard gas, 400 biological weapons, 26,000 liters of anthrax and samples of botulinum toxin and the nerve agents VX and sarin.

After the 16 chemical warheads were found, Armitage said, "Where are the other 29,984?"

Q: Will the findings mesh with U.S. claims of widespread weapons programs in Iraq?

A: Probably not. U.S. intelligence has provided information on a number of suspected weapons sites to the inspectors, but none have turned up the "smoking gun" -- that is, hard evidence of an ongoing weapons effort. Defense officials say the inspectors have not yet visited all the sites provided by intelligence.

Inspectors also visited more than a dozen sites that U.S. and British intelligence publicly said were suspicious, turning up nothing. Officials have said they detected signs that Saddam sanitized those sites in preparation for inspections.

Q: Why haven't the inspectors found a "smoking gun?"

A: Bush administration officials say Saddam excels at hiding his weapons. Iraq denies it has any prohibited weapons.

Q: How about interviewing Iraqi scientists?

A: They are believed to have the most up-to-date information on any weapons program. Bush administration officials say Saddam's government has threatened the scientists and their families with death if they talk to inspectors. Iraqi officials say the scientists are generally unwilling to be interviewed on the inspectors' terms.

Q: What happens after the report is presented?

A: The ambassadors at the U.N. Security Council will meet with the inspectors Monday in closed session. On Wednesday, the Security Council will reconvene and the 15 ambassadors are expected to discuss their positions on the inspectors' report.

Most countries believe a new U.N. resolution is required before the international community would support the use of force in Iraq, and several countries, including France and Russia, have said they would not support such a resolution at this time. The United States believes it already has that authorization, from its interpretation of previous resolutions.

Q: What does U.N. authorization mean if the U.S. goes to war?

A: U.N. support gives any U.S.-led offensive the sanction of the international community. Administration officials have said they are willing to go to war without a new U.N. authorization.

Q: Why are France, Germany and some other countries against going to war now?

A: They generally say they want the inspections process to run its full course.

Q: Does the U.S. need either country's assistance to go to war?

A: While Pentagon officials say the support would be helpful, France and Germany have no military capabilities that the U.S. is unable to provide on its own.

Q: What do Democrats say?

A: Wary of criticizing Bush on the need to confront Saddam, some, like presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, are saying the United States needs to work more closely with its allies and not charge ahead. Even a top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, echoed this sentiment.

Other Democrats have said Al Qaeda and North Korea pose more immediate threats.

Q: When will the U.S. military be ready to go to war in Iraq?

A: If U.S. troop movements continue at the current pace, probably in mid-to-late February.

Q: Why not just wait for more inspections?

A: Iraq is getting hotter. By late spring, desert temperatures can exceed 100 degrees, which would increase the physical strain on the troops, particularly those wearing full-body protective gear to shield them from chemical and biological weapons. Military experts say if the United States does not go to war in February or March, it may have to wait until fall.