U.N. official presses U.S. for data on Iraq
Published: Saturday, January 11, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 10, 2003 at 9:37 p.m.
WASHINGTON - The top U.N. nuclear weapons official pressed the United States on Friday to provide more information to help his team find banned Iraqi weapons.
Also Friday, President Bush met with Iraqi opposition figures to discuss a democratic post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.
"We need specific information on where to go and where to inspect," said Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.
He made his pitch first to members of Congress and then to White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and to Secretary of State Colin Powell.
"I have told the secretary that we are inching forward, but not as fast as we would like to be," ElBaradei told reporters after meeting with Powell at the State Department.
Powell has said that more information is being provided. But ElBaradei said after his meeting with lawmakers, "We need more actionable information."
At the White House, presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer said the United States was "providing information to the inspectors to help them to do their job."
The administration "will continue to be in communication with the inspectors about the exact nature of it. But they are receiving a tremendous amount of information now that we think is going to be very helpful to them in doing their jobs," Fleischer said.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "They are getting the best that we've got."
He later clarified the statement by saying that the inspectors are not getting "every single detail" about intelligence information.
The dispute over the flow of intelligence information came as Bush met with three Iraqi opposition figures to discuss a Saddam-free Iraq.
Bush conveyed "his hopes and dreams for the future of a free Iraq that is inclusive and unified and democratic," Fleischer said.
Bush met with Kanan Makiya, an anti-Saddam activist, architect and novelist; Rand Rahim, head of the Iraqi Foundation; and Hatem Mukhlis, an Iraqi-American doctor.
Powell, meanwhile, told reporters that ElBaradei had briefed him about his upcoming trip to Baghdad with chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix.
The team will "present to the Iraqis their need for additional cooperation, better cooperation than the kind of cooperation we've seen so far, and to fill in the gaps that have been noted in the information they have been providing," Powell said.
Elsewhere, Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed critics who suggest that the attention the administration is lavishing on Iraq is diverting resources from the larger war on terror.
"Confronting the threat posed by Iraq is not a distraction from the war on terror. It is absolutely crucial for winning the war on terror," Cheney told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"Iraq could decide on any given day to provide biological or chemical weapons to a terrorist group or individual terrorist, which is why the war on terror will not be won until Iraq is completely and verifiably deprived of weapons of mass destruction," he added.
ElBaradei, after a meeting Friday with incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Dick Lugar, R-Ind., and other lawmakers, told reporters he was pleased with the intelligence he was getting from the U.S. intelligence agencies - but wanted more.
"I hope in the next few weeks that this process will intensify and that we'll get additional information that can accelerate our job in the field," he said.
Rep. Doug Bereuter, R-Neb., a member of the Intelligence and International Relations committees, said Friday the United States has been increasing the information provided to inspectors.
"There is more that can be shared in my judgment, but they have made big advances and I don't think there's any clear intent to limit it," he said in an interview.
He said the government has to be careful not to reveal intelligence methods and sources, especially when the intelligence comes from U.S. allies. "We don't want to burn those relationships."
Meanwhile, the Pentagon said that U.S. warplanes struck five air defense sites in southern Iraq Friday as preparations continued for a possible war to oust Saddam Hussein.
The fighters used precision-guided weapons to attack an air defense command and control site at Tallil, about 170 miles southeast of Baghdad, said a statement from U.S. Central Command said. And officials at Camp Lejeune, N.C., said some 7,000 Marines from that base will be sent to join U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf.
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