The United States accused Iraq Thursday of wide-ranging violations of its disarmament obligations under last November's U.N. Security Council resolution. Administration spokesmen, however, said President Bush has no timetable for determining whether to forcibly disarm Iraq.
The Bush administration noticeably toughened its rhetoric about Iraqi non-compliance, even as the U.N.'s chief arms inspector Hans Blix was telling the Security Council that two months of inspections had not turned up so-called "smoking gun" definitive evidence that Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters the United States knows for a fact that outlawed weapons are there, even though Saddam Hussein is keeping the "smoking gun" hidden from view.
Here at the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher said there is no indication Iraq has made a strategic decision to disarm, and no sign that Saddam Hussein has changed an approach to the inspections "based on deceit and deception."
"There's no active cooperation. And there are a lot of areas where Iraq has failed to come up with any credible evidence, which was the standard the inspectors set, any credible evidence to explain what happened to things like mustard gas shells, empty artillery shells, VX gas, missile fuels and missiles being tested," he said. "The list of personnel that they provided is not complete and current. In fact, much of the information that Iraq has submitted, upon the examination that we and others have now been able to give it, proves to be incomplete, inaccurate and recycled."
In New York Mr. Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency Chief Mohammed ElBaradei reported informally to the Security Council in advance of a full-scale accounting of operations in Iraq due on January 27.
Speaking to reporters after the session, Mr. Blix said the fact that no banned weapons have been turned up thus far does not mean Iraq is in compliance with the U.N., as it insisted in its massive declaration last month.
"I said that we still get prompt access from the Iraqi side, that the inspections are covering ever-wider areas and ever-more sites in the Iraq, that in the course of these inspections we have not found any smoking gun," he said. "However we are getting more and more information, better knowledge about the situation, and that the [Iraqi] declaration regrettably has not helped very much to clarify any question marks of the past. Lastly, I can tell you that the council has given us very good support, expressed confidence in our two organizations, and that they look forward to the briefing that we'll give on the 27 of this month."
Mr. Blix said the Iraq declaration was "rich in volume," but "practically devoid of new evidence" on issues such as status of nerve gas and chemical weapons known to have been in Iraq's possession when the previous set of inspections were halted 1998.
British U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said that in the closed-door meeting with the council, Mr. Blix and IAEA chief ElBaradei described "inadequacies" in Iraq's cooperation, even though inspectors have not been barred from entering any suspected weapons sites thus far.
"The procedural, what I would call passive, cooperation of Iraq has been good in terms of access and other procedural issues," he said. "But there's no doubt that from the flavor of their presentations, the pro-active cooperation that we've been looking for on substance from Iraq has not been forthcoming - the kind of cooperation that will be needed to clear up the remaining questions that are in the minds of the inspectors about what they've inherited from past history and from UNSCOM. And I think there, I have to say, Iraq missing an important opportunity to clear those remaining questions."
Despite the problems, Mr. Greenstock and other U.S. allies on the council seemed to downplay expectations that the formal report due on January 27 might be a trigger for military action Against Iraq. The British envoy said the inspectors need more time to do their work, that that "by definition" the upcoming report will not necessarily produce anything new or dramatic.
White House spokesman Fleischer had similar comments, saying January 27 did not represent a deadline, but rather "an important reporting date."
Mr. ElBaradei, the IAEA chief, is due in Washington Friday to brief senior administration officials including Secretary of State Colin Powell on the Iraq inspections and on North Korea's recent nuclear actions.