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White House Downplays Internal Differences Over Iraq Policy - 2002-09-02

The White House is downplaying differences among top U.S. officials on Iraq. The Bush administration is also taking a dim view of the latest comments from Iraq on the return of weapons inspectors.

In a broadcast interview, Secretary of State Colin Powell said U.N. weapons inspectors must return to Iraq as a first step. That appeared to be in conflict with the skepticism expressed by Vice President Dick Cheney in two recent speeches. He said the inspectors might provide "false comfort."

But White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer says there is not a split in the administration. He says the White House has long said that Iraq must live up to it international obligations which include free access for weapons inspectors.

Mr. Fleischer also makes clear administration officials are not convinced Iraq will ever let the inspectors back in. Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister said Monday Baghdad would consider their return as part of an overall deal to settle differences with Washington. The White House spokesman dismissed the remarks saying members of Saddam Hussein's government do not have a history of reliability.