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Bush Concerned about Omissions in Iraqi Weapons Documents - 2002-12-18

The White House says the arms declaration Iraq submitted to the United Nations does not fully disclose the country's arsenal. Officials stress this is Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's last chance to provide the U.N. with a full accounting of his weapons of mass destruction.

White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer indicates the U.S. review of the document is nearly complete. And for the first time, he is previewing the president's reaction to the voluminous arms declaration. "The president is concerned with omissions in this document, and the president is concerned with problems in this document," Mr. Fleischer said.

Mr. Fleischer said the United States is waiting for U.N. weapons inspectors to deliver their assessment of the report. He said after chief weapons inspector Hans Blix goes before the Security Council Thursday, the White House will present its conclusions.

"Following that, I think you will see the United States move a very deliberative and thoughtful way about what the implications of this are," he said.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte is expected to give the initial United States response at the United Nations, followed by Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington. A presidential address has not been formally announced, but could come as early as Friday.

The White House is signaling it will blend tough talk with patience and diplomacy. Mr. Fleischer stresses the United States will work with other countries as the U.N. process plays out. During a session with reporters, he appeared to choose his words carefully, with a focus on the ongoing weapons inspection program. The White House spokesman made clear that even if the United States accuses Iraq of a "material breech," President Bush wants the inspections to go on.

"We want the inspectors to have the tools they need to do the job. We want them to be able to fully use every asset given to them in the United Nations Security Council resolution," Mr. Fleischer said.

That resolution warns of consequences if Iraq refuses to disarm. In its arms declaration, Baghdad declared it has no chemical, biological and nuclear weaponry. The White House has said it has evidence to the contrary, and Mr. Fleischer once again warned Iraq Wednesday that this declaration was its final opportunity to provide a complete accounting to the United Nations.

"This was Saddam Hussein's last chance. And it is important now to listen to the world, to listen to the United Nations, to listen to allies, to listen to other countries as they too have their chance to look at this declaration," Mr. Fleischer said.

The British government is already speaking out in strong terms about the document. Prime Minister Tony Blair told parliament that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is obviously lying to the United Nations.

"I think most people who have looked at this obviously very long document are pretty skeptical about the claims that it makes. But it is important that we study it in detail and make a formal and considered response," Mr. Blair said.

The prime minister said Britain will release its formal assessment of the arms declaration in the New Year.