WASHINGTON – The top U.N. nuclear weapons official pressed the United States on Friday to provide more information to help his team find banned Iraqi weapons.
Also Friday, President Bush met with Iraqi opposition figures to discuss a democratic post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.
"We need specific information on where to go and where to inspect," said Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.
He made his pitch first to members of Congress and then to White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and to Secretary of State Colin Powell.
"I have told the secretary that we are inching forward, but not as fast as we would like to be," ElBaradei told reporters after meeting with Powell at the State Department.
Both Powell and ElBaradei accused Iraq of resisting efforts by inspectors to freely interview Iraqi scientists, preferably on neutral turf such as Cyprus.
"The U.N. resolution is clear that they should be made available," Powell said. "One way to do that safely is to remove them from the country so that they're not subject to threats and intimidation, nor are their family members."
Administration officials looking for signs that Saddam may be ready to capitulate and surrender weapons were not encouraged by recent developments.
Less and less emphasis was being placed by the administration on a Jan. 27 deadline — the date that U.N. inspectors are to present their first comprehensive report to the U.N. Security Council. Inspectors say they need more time, and U.S. officials on Friday characterized that date more as a milestone than a day that could prompt a war decision.
Powell and other U.S. officials have said they are doing their best to provide increasing intelligence information to weapons inspectors. But ElBaradei said after his meeting with lawmakers, "We need more actionable information."
At the White House, presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer said the United States was providing "a tremendous amount of information."
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "They are getting the best that we've got."
He later issued a clarification, saying that the inspectors are not getting "every single detail" about intelligence information, particularly as it relates to sources and methods.
The dispute over the flow of intelligence information came as Bush met with three Iraqi opposition figures to discuss a Saddam-Hussein-free Iraq. Bush conveyed "his hopes and dreams for the future of a free Iraq that is inclusive and unified and democratic," Fleischer said.
Bush met with Kanan Makiya, an anti-Saddam activist, architect and novelist; Rand Rahim, head of the Iraqi Foundation; and Hatem Mukhlis, an Iraqi-American doctor.
ElBaradei briefed Powell and other U.S. officials on his upcoming trip to Baghdad with chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix.
The team will "present to the Iraqis their need for additional cooperation, better cooperation than the kind of cooperation we've seen so far, and to fill in the gaps that have been noted in the information they have been providing," Powell said.
Elsewhere, Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed criticism that confronting Iraq was diverting resources from the larger war on terror. "It is absolutely crucial for winning the war on terror," Cheney told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"Iraq could decide on any given day to provide biological or chemical weapons to a terrorist group or individual terrorist, which is why the war on terror will not be won until Iraq is completely and verifiably deprived of weapons of mass destruction," he added.
Rep. Doug Bereuter, R-Neb., a member of the Intelligence and International Relations committees, said Friday the United States has been giving more information to inspectors. "There is more that can be shared in my judgment, but they have made big advances and I don't think there's any clear intent to limit it," he said in an interview.
Still, the government has to be careful not to reveal intelligence methods and sources, especially when the intelligence comes from U.S. allies, Bereuter said.
As preparations continued for a possible new Gulf war, U.S. fighter jets struck five air defense sites in southern Iraq Friday, the Pentagon announced.
The warplanes used precision-guided weapons to attack an air defense command and control site at Tallil, about 170 miles southeast of Baghdad, said a statement from U.S. Central Command said. And officials at Camp Lejeune, N.C., said some 7,000 Marines from that base will be sent to join U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf.