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Iraq Issues Detailed Reply To UN Weapons Report

In Iraq's first detailed response to Monday's United Nations weapons inspectors' report to the Security Council, a senior Iraqi official insisted Iraq has been free of weapons of mass destruction since 1991. The official said the report "magnified" minor issues.

The Iraqi official, General Amr Rasheed, said there was "no proportionate presentation" of the facts in Monday's progress report. He said it "belittled" the importance of the inspection process, and abbreviated the important issues.

The advisor to President Saddam Hussein, said Iraq has not had weapons of mass destruction since 1991, and he claimed Iraq has proved it.

The General responded to several issues presented to the Security Council, including allegations that Iraq has failed to account for tons of missing anthrax and VX nerve agent. He said Iraq stopped trying to produce those agents in 1990.

"We were unable to arrive at a reasonable purity of the VX. When we do not arrive at a certain purity that means that VX material will deteriorate and degrade within short time, possibly two-to-three years," he said. "With this it becomes unnecessary to even to know in detail exactly the quantity. We are now 13 years since 1990 so what is the value of the VX if it was one ton or two tons or a half ton, three tons, what is the value of it?," he asked

General Rasheed said the same was true of Iraq's attempt to produce anthrax in a powder form.

He said Iraq was disappointed that the report to the Security Council failed to address British and American documents issued last September that detailed sites suspected of producing weapons of mass destruction.

"We would have expected, at least, the report would show that none of the sites as represented in the White House report, or the British Prime Minister's report, has proven totally false and there is absolutely no grounds for it," he said.

On Monday, chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said Iraq has provided general cooperation to his staff, but he accused Iraq of withholding thousands of documents about its weapons program, of engaging in unhelpful rhetoric, and of making the inspectors play a game of "catch as catch can."

In addition, Mr. Blix complained that inspectors have been unable to use U-2 spy planes to inspect suspected weapons sites.

General Rasheed said for Iraq to guarantee the safety of the flights it would have to turn off its air defense systems, which might expose Iraq to attack from enemy warplanes. He said if the defense systems remain active, the U-2s would be able to map their exact location. Neither situation would be acceptable to Iraq.

General Rasheed said Iraq recognizes the need to fully cooperate with the weapons inspectors. He said Baghdad has asked Mr. Blix to send a technical team to detail remaining areas of concern so those issues can be resolved.

He said it is in Iraq's best interest to put an end to the issue of banned nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.