Ritter dismisses report on Iraq
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Ex-U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter has branded an independent think-tank's report on Iraq's capability to launch a nuclear attack as "all speculative."
Ritter, who criticised the U.S.' threat of military action against Baghdad during a speech to the Iraqi National Assembly at the weekend, attacked the report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) as being only "rhetorical."
The IISS's report into Iraq's arms programmes, published on Monday, warns Iraq could assemble a nuclear weapon in months if it receives foreign help. (Full Story)
The independent international research group that examines political, economic and military trends, also said at a news conference in London that Iraq could have been stockpiling chemical and biological weapons since 1998 when U.N. inspectors left the country and were refused permission to return.
Ritter, who resigned from his job in 1998 amid acrimony with the U.S., said: "Where are the facts... what evidence do they cite for this enduring interest?
"Where are the factories? Where are the weapons?" He added: "It's all rhetorical. It's all speculative.
"It is meaningless, with the sad exception that hawks in the Bush administration are going to point to this as a justification for war."
Ritter quit his job as weapons inspector after claiming the U.S. deliberately instigated a crisis with the regime of President Saddam Hussein so it could launch a bombing campaign -- despite there being no longer any need for aggressive inspections of Iraqi sites after 1995 when UNSCOM verified that it had fundamentally disarmed.
He also accused the U.S. of preventing UNSCOM inspectors from doing their jobs effectively and now appears set to enter a slanging match with the U.S. over its claims that Saddam now holds weapons of mass destruction which he plans to use.
U.S. President George W. Bush is trying to garner international support for military action against Saddam. (Full story)
U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN Ritter was "idealistic", adding there was no credence to Ritter's statements and he appeared to be courting Saddam.
When asked about Shelby's comments, Ritter said, "Well, Senator Shelby, with all due respect, back off buddy, I'm an American citizen doing the right thing for the United States of America. I'm not courting Saddam or the Iraqi people. I'm courting the American public."
'Let's go face-to-face'
He challenged Shelby to a debate on the weapons issue.
"Let's do it face to face in front of a TV camera," Ritter said. "I guarantee you this. I'll win that debate."
Ritter also threw scorn on U.S. claims that Saddam is trying to bolster his nuclear programme by attempting to acquire aluminum tubes, an element in producing nuclear weapons.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has said the tubes "are only really suited for nuclear weapons programmes, centrifuge programmes."
Centrifuge programmes are one way to separate weapons-grade uranium from natural uranium.
"We're going to go to war over thousands of aluminum pipes?" said Ritter. "This is patently ridiculous. These are aluminum pipes coming in for civilian use. They are not being transferred to a covert nuclear processing plant."
"I'm going to need a helluva lot more than some aluminum tubes before I'm convinced there's a case for war," Ritter added. "We cannot go to war because Vice President (Dick) Cheney is worried about aluminum pipes. This is ridiculous."
He quoted a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1998 which said Iraq had no nuclear weapons capability, so how, he asked, "suddenly are they an emerging nuclear threat?"
Ritter added that when the inspectors left Iraq, they had certified the country was between 90 and 95 percent disarmed.
During his speech to the Iraqi parliament on Sunday he denied allegations that the Iraqis had interfered with the inspection process.
He said the United States "seems to be on the verge of making a historical mistake" in its calls for ousting the Iraqi president and his regime. (Read the interview)
But in a CNN interview Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney said previous international efforts to contain Iraq have failed -- which "puts us in the position we are in today where we even have to think about the possibility of military action in Iraq."
"We have to deal with that emerging threat," Cheney said. "The question is how best to do it, and we would like to have the support of the international community as we go forward here." (Full story)
The White House accuses Hussein of seeking weapons of mass destruction, violating U.N. resolutions dating back to the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Secretary of State Colin Powell told NBC's "Today" show Monday that the U.S. has the intelligence to prove that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction - but "It is not for us to prove they have it; it is for them to prove they don't have it," he said.
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