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White House: Iraq has mass-destruction weapons

Hans Blix, chief United Nations weapons inspector
Hans Blix, chief United Nations weapons inspector

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States has solid intelligence that Iraq has kept weapons of mass destruction in violation of U.N. mandates, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Thursday.

Officials have good reason for charging that Iraq has the weapons, Fleischer said.

"The president of the United States and the secretary of defense would not assert as plainly and vocally as they have that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction if it was not true and if they did not have a solid basis for saying it," Fleischer said.

Fleischer spoke following a meeting of top advisers to President Bush, who discussed Iraq and the nation's pending Sunday deadline to publicly declare any weapons of mass destruction it may have.

Iraqi officials, including President Saddam Hussein, have denied U.S. accusations they have any such weapons.

In a televised statement Thursday, Saddam said his country is giving U.N. weapons inspectors a chance to prove Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction in order to protect Iraqi citizens. (Full story)

After seven days of work, U.N. inspection teams have reported no evidence that the nation has weapons of mass destruction. Fleischer did not disclose whether U.S. officials were sharing their information with weapons inspectors.

Bush has publicly expressed his skepticism that Saddam has been truthful, and said Thursday the choice between war and peace rests with the Iraqi president.

"The question is whether or not he chooses to disarm," Bush said. "For the sake of peace, he must disarm."

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Saddam had three choices: cooperate with inspectors, yield power and flee the country or "follow the pattern of previous years."

"He will either deal with the problem of disarming or he will tell the world community that he is unwilling to -- and the next choice, as the president has suggested, is with the United Nations and the members of the Security Council," Rumsfeld said.

Rather than treating an Iraqi denial in its declaration as a cause for war, senior administration officials said, the United States will wait while until chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and others conduct a "rapid series of inspections" to prove whether Iraq came clean in its declaration.

That wait likely will be three or four weeks, officials said.

"We will be deliberative," Fleischer said.



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