CRAWFORD, Texas – President Bush (search) said Saturday it is a matter of when — not if — weapons of mass destruction will be found in Iraq while suggesting that task is getting little help from Saddam Hussein's captured confederates.
"We'll find them," Bush said of Iraq's suspected chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. "It'll be a matter of time to do so."
Iraq's alleged possession of such weapons was Bush's main rationale for war, but none has been found since Saddam's government fell more than three weeks ago.
Bush and other U.S. officials had indicated that coalition troops may come up empty in their hunt, saying it is possible that weapons were destroyed before or during the U.S.-led war. On Saturday, a senior Bush aide offered another explanation, saying initial information suggests Iraq's weapons programs was geared mostly toward just-in-time production.
Bush pointed out that the United States was not alone in its accusations against Iraq, noting that the United Nations resolution approved unanimously in the Security Council last fall stated it had banned weapons.
"Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction," Bush said in a joint appearance at his ranch with Australian Prime Minister John Howard (search). "It's well known."
He said the search would be difficult and lengthy, but ultimately successful.
"Iraq's the size of the state of California. It's got tunnels, caves, all kinds of complexes," he said.
Bush complained that Tariq Aziz (search), one of Saddam Hussein's closest deputies, is not cooperating with U.S. forces who have him in custody since April 24.
The deputy prime minister was the most visible face of the former Iraqi government other than Saddam's, and Aziz was the official who made Iraq's case before the world when it invaded Kuwait in 1990.
U.S. officials had hoped that Aziz could provide information about the deposed president's whereabouts and Iraq's weapons.
"Tariq Aziz still doesn't know how to tell the truth," Bush said. "He didn't know how to tell the truth when he was in office. He doesn't know to tell the truth when he's been — as a captive."
Bush did not elaborate. But officials say American intelligence agents are able to check one prisoner's claims against others, now that an increasing number of Iraqi leaders are in U.S. hands. The United States has documents that help verify responses from captives, they said.
Bush professed no concern about the lack of credible information, saying that lower-ranking officials and regular citizens "will come forward" and provide it.
"We'll find out a lot about the nature of the Hussein regime as time goes on," he said.
Referring to the deck of cards of wanted Iraqis, Bush said: "It may not be the aces, kings and queens and jacks that do the talking. It may be those are doing the carrying the water for the aces and kings and queens and jacks that do the talking."
Bush and Howard were together for less than a day. The prime minister and his wife, Janette, joined Bush in northern California on Friday afternoon and flew with him aboard Air Force One back to Texas. The Howards left after lunch on Saturday.
The discussions occurred mostly in social settings. The two couples had dinner together Friday night — followed by an early bedtime for all. Saturday morning, Bush treated Howard to his usual speed-walking tour of his 1,600-acre Prairie Chapel Ranch.
Amid their morning sessions, Bush also squeezed in some telephone diplomacy. He spoke to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and with Jordan's King Abdullah II on the Bush-supported international "road map" for peace in the Middle East.
The visit was a thank-you to Howard, a staunch U.S. ally on Iraq who sent a small number of Australian troops to the war despite severe opposition at home.
Hundreds of thousands attended peace rallies across Australia — once forcing Howard to leave his official residence on foot when anti-war protesters barricaded the exit. But his popularity has since soared.
"Times get tough when you make tough decisions, and we both made a tough decision," Bush said. "But there was never any doubt in his mind. He was steady under fire. He stood his ground when he needed to stand his ground because he understands the difference between right and wrong."
Howard congratulated Bush "on the leadership that you gave to the world, at times under very great criticism."
"What was achieved in Iraq was quite extraordinary," he said. "The United States, I think, has sent a very important message not only to the region but to the rest of the world."
Bush told reporters he hoped to complete a free trade agreement with Australia by the end of the year and have Congress ratify it in 2004. The deal is a priority for Howard.
The Middle East came up, with Howard thanking the president for his involvement. "We see progress on this issue as being very important to consolidating what has been achieved in Iraq and building on the message of freedom that came out of the operation in Iraq," Howard said.
The leaders also discussed Australian efforts to combat terrorism in Indonesia and their joint desire to see the United Nations lift sanctions on Iraq.