US to respond to Iraq declaration within days

17 December 2002

Washington on 16 December followed London the day before in publicly expressing doubts about Iraq's weapons declaration. 'We approached it with scepticism, and the information I have received so far is that that scepticism is well-founded,' Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters. He said that an official US response could be forthcoming within the next few days. White House officials have previously complained that the whereabouts of chemical and biological agents Iraq is known to possess is still not explained in the document. British government officials were quoted on 15 December as saying that the declaration was 'very disappointing' for the same reason.

There are now more than 100 inspectors working in Iraq, and since their arrival on 27 November they have seemed to be concentrating on a number of key facilities, making repeated visits for example to the Al-Tuwaitha plant once associated with Saddam Hussein's nuclear programme. Head of the inspections team Hans Blix opened another channel of information on 12 December, writing to Baghdad demanding a list of key scientific personnel, but he has registered unease with the US plan to force scientists out of Iraq for questioning. In a statement on 14 December, the UN's weapons inspection commission said that the request for this list should not be interpreted as a move towards the US-favoured approach and that the idea required further study. UN personnel have raised practical problems with taking scientists abroad, even voluntarily: Blix has said that he will not 'abduct anybody' or act as a 'defection agency'. Others at the UN have questioned what would become of the Iraqis after they had been interviewed. Washington views the provision in Resolution 1441 for interviews within or outside Iraq as the best chance of getting to the bottom of Saddam Hussein's weapons programmes, and has repeatedly expressed scepticism about the ability of inspections to achieve this aim.

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