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White House Rebukes Saddam Spy Allegations Against UN Inspectors - 2003-01-06

The White House is taking strong issue with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's latest comments on weapons inspectors and suicide bombings in Israel.

In a speech to the Iraqi people, Saddam Hussein accused the U.N. weapons inspectors of engaging in intelligence gathering. In the same address, he praised the twin suicide bombings Sunday in Tel Aviv as "heroic."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer labeled the remarks "unfortunate." He said the inspectors are on an international mission under the auspices of the United Nations and stressed their work needs to continue. "Saddam Hussein's statements where he accused the weapons inspectors of carrying out pure intelligence work is an attempt to divert attention from the fact that Iraq still has not shown signs it will disarm itself of weapons of mass destruction," Mr. Fleischer said.

He said that according to news reports Iraq has not been reluctant to spy on inspection teams in the past. He said listening devices were put in their rooms and their conversations were monitored. "The inspectors are doing their very, very best and the president is appreciative of those efforts. But bear in mind the environment in which they find themselves working. It is the Iraqis who have put in place the hurdles," Mr. Fleischer said.

The White House spokesman used even stronger and more emotional words in response to Saddam Hussein's comments on the attacks in Israel. He said there is no excuse for suicide bombers. And he called the Iraqi leader's praise "horrific."

Mr. Fleischer was then asked about retaliatory steps taken by Israel, including a decision to bar Palestinian officials from holding key meetings in the West Bank and abroad.

He noted that at least 22 people were killed in Sunday's bombing in Tel Aviv, calling it a huge attack. Mr. Fleischer said Israel has a right to defend itself, but noted the Israelis must be mindful of the consequences.