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Bush, Blair make case against Iraq

Confusion over Iraqi nuke report

President Bush hosted British Prime Minister Tony Blair Saturday for talks on Iraq.
President Bush hosted British Prime Minister Tony Blair Saturday for talks on Iraq.  


CAMP DAVID, Maryland (CNN) -- President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Saturday there is ample evidence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, but critics questioned that conclusion and late Saturday some of the evidence the leaders cited was brought into question.

Both leaders cited a report indicating possible nuclear construction by Iraq, although a spokesman for the international agency in charge of nuclear inspection said no conclusions could be drawn from the report.

But by Saturday evening the whole issue of the existence of a "new report" was being denied by officials at the White House, the National Security Council, and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the supposed author of the alleged report.

Blair said on Saturday morning, "We only need look at the report from the International Atomic Energy Agency this morning, showing what has been going on at a former nuclear weapon site."

He said satellite pictures indicate new construction in Iraq at "former nuclear weapon sites."

Blair said he had just read about a number of attempts by Saddam to conceal weapons of mass destruction and concluded that he must act. "A policy of inaction is not a policy we can responsibly subscribe to," he said.

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Later in the day, officials confirmed the IAEA does have satellite photographs which the agency's scientists say show fresh construction and new buildings at weapons sites where U.N. weapons inspectors once visited.

But the IAEA said it has been reviewing these pictures for more than two years and that there are no new photos or evidence of Iraqi nuclear activity.

The New York Times wrote about the satellite pictures in an article published Friday.

'There's no report'

"There's no report," IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky, said.

"[Bush and Blair] are going off of a New York Times article that really didn't get it right yesterday. In fact, we issued a press release last night saying there's no new information about any Iraqi nuclear activity, and until we get inspectors on the ground we can't draw any conclusion about whether they're in compliance with the Security Council resolutions with regard to nuclear activities."

Gwozdecky went on to say that the Times article discussed commercially available satellite imagery that the agency has been reviewing for more than two years.

Bush and Blair met at Camp David Saturday to set a joint strategy for building broad support for their view on Iraq.

International support for that view has not coalesced behind Bush's goal of removing Saddam from power. Blair acknowledged that some world leaders have raised "perfectly reasonable questions" about a possible attack against Iraq.

But Bush said he has a lot of support for his goal. "A lot of people understand that this man has defied every U.N. resolution," he said.

"A lot of people understand he holds weapons of mass destruction. A lot of people understand he has invaded two countries. A lot of people understand he's gassed his own people. A lot of people understand he is unstable.

"So, we've got a lot of support."

But "a lot of people" has not translated into a lot of countries. Except for Israel and Britain, no world leader has publicly committed support for a pre-emptive attack on Iraq.

Bush is expected to try to gain more international support in a speech Thursday to the U.N. General Assembly, where aides say he will issue an ultimatum to Saddam -- allow weapons inspectors unfettered access or face unspecified consequences. Aides say Bush plans to reiterate that Saddam is a global threat and has broken his nation's agreements with the United Nations.

The Bush administration is also reported to be crafting a Security Council resolution on Iraq with broad language it hopes will be supported by the whole council.

On Friday, Bush discussed Iraq by phone with leaders of three of the five permanent United Nations Security Council members -- French President Jacques Chirac, Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

All three have expressed doubts about the need for military action against the Iraqi president, and any one of them could veto Security Council resolutions on Iraq.

Britain is the only permanent member of the Security Council to publicly support Bush's position.

"We've got to make sure that we work out a way forward that of course mobilizes the maximum support but does so on the basis of removing a threat that the United Nations itself has determined is a threat to the whole of the world," Blair said.

Bush said, "This man is a man who said he was going to get rid of weapons of mass destruction, and for 11 long years he has not fulfilled his promise."

"Everyone in the world should know that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," the nation's deputy foreign minister Tariq Aziz said on CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer," last Sunday.

Aziz also said his country has no ties to the terrorist network al Qaeda, which the United States alleges has members living in northern Iraq.

Ritter: 'He has no credibility'

Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter, in Baghdad as a private citizen to address the Iraqi National Assembly Sunday and perhaps head off war, was critical of calls for a regime change in Iraq.

Ritter, who looked for weapons in Iraq from 1991 until 1998, when he was called back to the United States two days prior to a U.S. attack on Iraq, said an ultimatum from Bush would carry no weight with the Iraqis.

"One of the problems with President Bush issuing that kind of ultimatum is that he has no credibility," Ritter said. "Members of his administration have said inspections don't matter. Members of his administration have said that, even if they get back in Iraq and succeed in disarming Iraq, that they're still going to seek regime removal."

The Bush administration appears to be using the issue of weapons of mass destruction as an excuse to go to war, Ritter said.

"This is about President Bush's own domestic political agenda in which he and his administration have invested so much political capital behind the concept of getting rid of the Iraqi president that they boxed themselves in to a rhetorical corner and are desperate to advance this situation. So they're using weapons inspections as such an excuse."

He expressed sympathy for the Iraqi leader's reluctance to allow weapons inspectors to return, noting that U.S. authorities had used information gleaned from the inspectors to target their attacks.

In an interview scheduled for broadcast Sunday, Blair told the BBC that Great Britain should be prepared to commit troops alongside U.S. forces.

Blair has faced criticism at home for that position, but he told the BBC he would not be backing the United States "if I thought they were doing something wrong."

Pressing the case

Bush advisers are scheduled to make the rounds of the Sunday talk shows, and the White House has dispatched envoys to Moscow, Beijing and Paris for follow-up discussions to Bush's speech at the U.N. General Assembly next week, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Fleischer would not characterize the leaders' responses to Bush's calls Friday except to say they all expressed their appreciation to Bush for consulting them.

But in Moscow, Russian officials said Putin told Bush he has "serious doubts" about the legal or political basis for military action against Iraq. (Full story)

Putin believes a real possibility remains of solving the Iraq standoff politically, the officials said.

President Chirac of France told Blair and Bush that it was up to the United Nations, not them, to decide how to act.



 
 
 
 


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