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White House:  Bush Has Solid Case Against Iraq - 2002-12-05

The White House says President Bush has a solid basis for accusing Iraq of having weapons of mass destruction, despite repeated denials from Baghdad. Officials say the president would not make the assertion unless he had the evidence to back it up.

President Bush has said time and time again that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and the will to use them.

Iraq says that is not so, that it has no stockpiles of biological, chemical or nuclear weaponry and will make that point in a report due at the U.N. by December 8.

White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer brushes off the Iraqi denial. "I see little reason to believe Iraq now when they have lied in the past about this very topic," he said.

Mr. Fleischer says the president would not say plainly and bluntly that Iraq has such weapons systems unless he had a solid basis to do so.

"President Bush has said Iraq has weapons of mass destruction," the spokesman said. "[British Prime Minister] Tony Blair has said Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. [U.S. Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld has said Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. [Former Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector] Richard Butler has said they do. The United Nations has said they do. The experts have said they do. Iraq says they don't. You can chose who you want to believe."

The White House spokesman says Washington is providing information to U.N. weapons inspectors, but refuses to say when specific evidence might be turned over or made public.

"All events in due course," said Mr. Fleischer. "Let Saddam Hussein make his report this weekend which is what the United Nations asked to happen and what the president called for."

The Bush administration is pushing the U.N. to move ahead with plans to boost the inspection regime once the report is in with more inspectors and equipment. President Bush is refusing to comment on day to day developments in the search for weapons, but says the fate of the inspection process rests with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"There are inspectors inside the country now and the inspectors are there not to play a game of hide and seek but they are there to verify whether or not Mr. Saddam Hussein is going to disarm," the president said.

During a brief session with reporters, Mr. Bush was asked about the likelihood of war if the Iraqi president refuses to comply with disarmament demands.

"That is a question you should ask to Saddam Hussein," he said. "It is his choice to make."

President Bush has warned that the United States is prepared to lead a coalition that will disarm Iraq by force, if Saddam Hussein will not disarm peacefully.