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Rumsfeld Insists Hunt for Iraqi WMD Proceeding Well - 2003-09-16

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the hunt for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction is proceeding in an orderly fashion - even though no chemical or biological weapons have yet been found.

One year ago, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had "amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of biological weapons" and chemical weapons, "including VX, Sarin and mustard gas."

So far, no such stockpiles have been found and Iraqi scientists interrogated by U.S. officials have claimed all such stockpiles were destroyed before the latest war.

But at the Pentagon Tuesday, Mr. Rumsfeld declined comment on a draft document by U.S. weapons inspectors in Iraq that reportedly points out there is no evidence Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when U.S. forces attacked earlier this year.

Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters he has not seen the interim report, which ABC news said Monday night has been prepared by David Kay, the special advisor to the U.S.-led team hunting for Iraqi chemical and biological weapons.

But the defense secretary says the team is working well.

"They are interrogating a large number of people and they are, from time to time, investigating various suspect sites," he said. "How they will pull that together into a report at some point is something I think I will leave to them."

But when asked whether his remarks to the Senate committee a year ago represented flawed intelligence or exaggeration by the Bush administration, Mr. Rumsfeld's anger appeared to flare.

He pointed out the actual hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has only been under way for four-and-a-half months. "Is it long? Is it short? I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder," he said. "I personally think that in a country that size that the pace they are proceeding is responsible, orderly and we'll soon all know what they have to say."

But Mr. Rumsfeld indicated evidence of Iraq's weapons programs will ultimately be found, asserting that he believed the intelligence presented to defense officials before the war and he still believes it today.

In other comments at his news conference, Mr. Rumsfeld said he did not believe it is the responsibility of the United States to rebuild Iraq - despite the administration's spending so far and its requests for billions of dollars more for reconstruction costs.

He also said he did not expect any new U.N. resolution on Iraq to bring in substantial additional international troops to act as peacekeepers, perhaps only up to 15,000 more.

And, Mr. Rumsfeld said he had no indication of any Iraqi involvement in the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States two years ago - this, despite new opinion polls showing many Americans believe it.