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White House: Chemical Warhead Discovery in Iraq 'Troubling and Serious' - 2003-01-17

The White House says the discovery of empty chemical warheads in Iraq is "troubling and serious. The Bush administration says the warheads were not part of last month's weapons declaration.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says U.S. officials have carefully gone over Iraq's 12,000-page weapons declaration, and say it does not include the empty chemical warheads discovered Thursday by U.N. inspectors. "The fact that Iraq is in possession of undeclared chemical warheads, which the United Nations says are in excellent condition, is and of itself a serious and troubling matter," said Mr. Fleischer.

Mr. Fleischer says the discovery shows that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is continuing to violate U.N. resolutions demanding that he disarm.

Iraq says the warheads were included in its report to the U.N. last month, and had been forgotten with no intention of using them.

Mr. Fleischer says that raises the question of what other "memory lapses" there might be in the country's weapons program that Mr. Fleischer says could bring harm to Iraq's neighbors or U.S. allies. "The real issue here is what is Saddam Hussein doing," he said. "What is Saddam Hussein hiding? And what else has Saddam Hussein failed to list in his declaration."

In a speech Friday marking the anniversary of the start of the 1991 Gulf War, the Iraqi president said Iraq's enemies would face "suicide" at the gates of Baghdad, if they tried to attack the country.

Mr. Fleischer says President Bush is less interested in the Iraqi leader's talking, and more interested in his disarming.

The Bush administration is resisting calls from European allies for a second U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, if inspectors conclude that it is violating its agreements.

President Bush says the current U.N. resolution gives him the right to lead his own coalition against Iraq, if the country does not give up suspected weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Fleischer stopped short of calling the discovery of empty chemical warheads a 'material breach' of the U.N. resolution, which the administration says could trigger military action. "Certainly, the discovery of the chemical warheads in Iraq does not get Iraq out of the material breach they are already in," said Ari Fleischer.

Mr. Bush says he has not decided whether to use force in Iraq. The deployment of more than 120,000 U.S. troops to the Gulf region is expected to be complete by mid-February.