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US Skepticism Over Iraqi Weapons Report Well Founded, says Powell - 2002-12-16

Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States expected to have an assessment of Iraq's weapons declaration later this week, and he is signaling strongly that the Bush administration finds the document lacking.

The United States is not expected to release its own analysis of the massive Iraqi statement until after chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix reports to the Security Council on Thursday. But at a news conference with the Japanese foreign and defense ministers, Mr. Powell indicated strongly that the emerging U.S. assessment of the critical document is negative.

"We said at the very beginning that we approached it with skepticism, and the information I've received so far is that that skepticism is well-founded. There are problems with the declaration. We are sharing the problems we see with UNMOVIC and the IAEA. And we're in discussions with the other permanent members of the Security Council," Mr. Powell said.

Earlier, the White House said that Saddam Hussein would not be given a second chance to correct omissions in the 12,000 page document, which U.S. officials have said contains gaping holes in Iraq's accounting of its weapons of mass destruction programs.

In his remarks here, Mr. Powell stressed the importance of the U.N. inspectors exercising their right to interview Iraqi weapons scientists, who would have first hand knowledge of the disposition of banned weapons.

"The Resolution, 1441, provides for those who need to be interviewed to be made available. And if Iraq does not comply with that requirement of the resolution, I'm sure the international community will take note and decide what action is appropriate. But I would not like to characterize what might or might not happen in the future at this point," Mr. Powell said.

A joint communiqué from the U.S.-Japanese ministerial said the U.N. resolution, approved last month, gives Iraq a "final opportunity" to comply with its disarmament obligations, and stressed its warning of "serious consequences" in the event of non-compliance.

It said the U.S. and Japanese governments consider a peaceful resolution of the issue "desirable," and said they agree to consult "even more closely" if Iraq's behavior "requires further action on the part of the international community."