The Bush administration said Wednesday it is critical that U.N. weapons inspectors be given full access to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces as part of any new inspection regime. The so-called "presidential sites" would be spared from scrutiny under the deal reached between chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix and Iraqi officials earlier this week in Vienna.
Officials here say the so-called "presidential sites" are huge tracts with multiple buildings that appear to go well beyond mere residences for Saddam Hussein.
They say the fact that the palaces are off-limits to inspectors under current rules is a principal reason why the United States is pressing for a new U.N. resolution providing for unrestricted access to suspected weapons sites.
The Bush administration reacted skeptically to the announcement from Vienna Tuesday by Mr. Blix that Iraq had given its assent to unlimited inspections, while at the same time keeping in place 1998 rules that bar surprise inspections at the palace compounds.
At a briefing, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the eight presidential sites in question cover more than 30 square kilometers in area and contain about 1,000 buildings, among them the Radwaniya palace compound near downtown Baghdad he said is 40 times as large as the White House grounds in Washington.
Mr. Reeker said the United States believes Saddam Hussein has used the sites in the past to hide equipment and information related to his weapons-of mass-destruction programs, and said the notion they are the innocent homes of the Iraqi leader is a fairy tale.
"We're not talking 'Sleeping Beauty' here. We're talking massive structures, gigantic facilities, extremely-well guarded," he said. "What's he hiding? If he's serious, if he means to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions to which he agreed, then he will open these things up. He hasn't in the past. We've played this game. And we're not going to play it any more. We need a serious resolution that opens everything, anytime, any place, anywhere."
Mr. Blix is due to report to the Security Council Thursday on his Vienna meetings with the Iraqis.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, in comments late Tuesday, refrained from direct criticism of Mr. Blix.
But he said the inspections chief is an agent of the Security Council, and should have additional instructions, in the form of a new council resolution, that tighten the inspection rules and make clear the consequences of Iraqi non-compliance.