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White House Rebuffs Blix's Call to Send UN Inspectors Back to Iraq - 2003-04-22

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix says his staff should return to Iraq to independently verify the discovery of any weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration says there is no immediate role for the inspectors because coalition troops are now in charge of searching for illegal weapons.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says it is the U.S.-led coalition that will search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, not the United Nations.

"The president is looking forward not backward. We will reassess the framework designed to disarm the Iraqi regime given the new facts on the ground and the fact that the Iraqi regime that created the environment for the inspectors previously to go in no longer exists," he said.

Mr. Fleischer says President Bush believes there is a role for the U.N. in a post-war Iraq, but not in searching for weapons of mass destruction, or WMD.

"We will work with Security Council members, the United Nations and our friends and allies on the issue of the post-Saddam Iraq and how best to achieve our mutual goals but make no mistake about it, the United States and the coalition have taken on the responsibility of dismantling Iraq's WMD," he said.

Destroying those weapons was one of the biggest reasons President Bush gave for invading Iraq last month. U.S. troops are now searching for chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, but so far have not announced any finds.

U.N. members met with Mr. Blix Tuesday to consider sending inspectors back to Iraq. Russia wants them to finish their work and certify that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction before lifting economic sanctions imposed following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Russia opposed the war and has criticized Washington's justification of eliminating suspected weapons of mass destruction.

However, France, a leading opponent of the war, is calling for immediate suspension of the sanctions, but says Iraq's oil-for-food program should remain under U.N. control.

President Bush wants sanctions lifted quickly to make it easier to sell Iraqi oil and for Iraq to buy foreign goods. Because the government that brought on those sanctions is history, Mr. Fleischer says the sanctions should be history too.

"The president called for the removal of sanctions on the Iraqi people because they no longer serve a useful purpose. The sanctions were created to target the Iraqi regime, to deny Saddam Hussein and his henchmen money that he would divert from the oil program to use to build palaces or buy weapons," he said.

Existing U.N. resolutions say sanctions can only be lifted once Iraq is found to be free of weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Fleischer says the Security Council has the power to pass another resolution lifting sanctions without that U.N. certification in light of Saddam's fall.