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US:  'Heavy' Iraq Weapons Report Doesn't Necessarily Mean Full Disclosure - 2002-12-06

In Washington, Bush administration officials are saying that the anticipated size of the Iraqi weapons report - perhaps 10,000 pages does not necessarily mean Saddam Hussein will be giving a full accounting of his weapons of mass destruction.

Officials here say the United States will not be making any "snap judgment" about the Iraqi report, which will get a thorough examination from an inter-agency team of U.S. intelligence, defense and State Department experts.

But the officials are not concealing their skepticism about the document, given Iraq's renewed assertions that all its weapons of mass destruction were destroyed in past years.

At a briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States believes Iraq still has such weapons, and that it will be the content, and not the size, of the Iraqi report that will matter.

"I don't think any of us in school got good grades just because we produced voluminous papers," he said. "Some of us didn't get good grades anyway. But the point is not how heavy is it; the point is, does it disclose their programs? Does it name the people? Does it identify the facilities? Does it identify the holdings that previous inspectors found and were not able destroy. Those are the questions to ask, not how many pages is it."

Though Iraq has said it will hand over the report to the United Nations on Saturday, Mr. Boucher indicated there will be no substantive U.S. response to it until sometime next week.

Once transmitted from Baghdad to New York, the document is to be distributed first to the five permanent Security Council members, the United States, Russia, France, China and Britain and later to the other ten elected members.

If the report comes under challenge, the U.N. inspections in Iraq which began late last month would likely continue, but with more aggressive tactics.

In that regard, U.S. officials Friday stressed the importance of the inspectors exercising their right to interview key Iraqi weapons scientists and if necessary taking them and their families outside Iraq to assure that the de-briefings occur without intimidation from Baghdad authorities.

Spokesman Boucher stopped short of confirming news reports the administration is prepared to grant asylum in a so-called "witness protection program" to such individuals and family members, but he did make clear the United States is prepared to help them.

"We think this capability should be exercised, that we will offer whatever support we can to people who want to talk to the United Nations and need to be able to talk to the United Nations freely, that we would be concerned about the safety and welfare of these individuals as well as their family members who might remain in a repressive situation inside Iraq," he said. "So we have had discussions with the inspection organizations about how to insure the security of the people who are interviewed, and of their family members."

U.S. officials have said testimony from Iraqi "insiders" might be crucial in establishing whether Iraq is defying the Security Council, and they are reported to have pressed chief weapons inspector Hans Blix to make the evacuation of such people a priority.

At the U.N. Friday, Mr. Blix denied being pressured by the United States but he also said the U.N. inspections group, UNMOVIC, is "serving as a defection agency" and is not going to abduct anyone.