A top aide to President Saddam Hussein accused U.N. weapons inspectors today of misrepresenting facts in their report to the Security Council but said Iraq was willing to be more cooperative with the inspectors to avert war with the United States.
In the first official comment here on the report delivered Monday, Lt. Gen. Amir Rashid, a former oil minister and director of Iraq's military industry, said Iraq was "ready to explain" all the outstanding disarmament issues identified in the report by the chief U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix.
"We are ready to cooperate more to resolve the issues through technical discussions and other means," said Rashid, an adviser to Hussein. Calling compliance something that is "in our interest as a country," he said Iraq was willing to "provide more clarification" on its past programs to develop biological and chemical weapons to address concerns among U.N. and U.S. officials that Iraq's weapons declarations have been inadequate.
"We are ready to put extra effort," he said at a news conference tonight. "Complete is never complete, as you know."
Although Rashid sounded more conciliatory than other senior Iraqi officials who have commented on the inspections over the past few days, he did not promise to hand over any additional evidence sought by the inspectors. He cast the points of disagreement as a "few issues here or there" that were of "minor importance." He insisted that Iraq already has "cooperated fully" with Security Council resolutions mandating Iraq's disarmament.
He complained that the reports presented to the council by Blix and the U.N.'s chief nuclear inspector, Mohamed ElBaradei, failed to note that inspectors had not found any prohibited activities at sites mentioned in a British government dossier and a CIA report as possible locations where Iraq was developing banned arms. They should have said "the White House report and the British report have proved totally false," Rashid said.
"There was no proportionate presentation of the facts," he said. "We see, for example, some facts amplified and magnified to what are called problems, so it gives a political impact that is rather negative, while important issues have been abbreviated, even shrinked, and sometimes even fully ignored." He said the Iraqi government had "expected the report to be better."
In his report, Blix said Iraq has failed to accept the obligation to disarm. In particular, he said, the government had not provided inspectors with enough evidence to support claims it destroyed stocks of VX nerve agent and anthrax bacteria that it acknowledged producing in the 1980s. U.S. officials have warned that Iraq might have weaponized forms of those and other biological and chemical agents.
Rashid insisted that Iraq never manufactured VX that was pure enough to remain potent for more than a few years. Because it was synthesized 13 years ago, any remaining stockpiles would be too degraded now to have any effect, he said. "It was only what you call experimental production and it was a failure," he said. The issue of VX, he said, "needs a scientific discussion, not people who are politically motivated."
The U.S. government contends Iraq developed far purer VX that it has acknowledged and that quantities of the nerve agent it produced still remain a threat. In his report, Blix said Iraq "had worked on the problem of purity and stabilization and that more had been achieved than has been declared."
Weapons experts say that while VX has a limited shelf life, ingredients are often stored separately and mixed just prior to use.
On the issue of anthrax, Rashid said Iraq developed it only in a liquid form with a "shelf life of only a few years" instead of in a powdered form that can be used in weapons. U.S. officials have disputed that contention, saying Iraq developed a sophisticated powdered form of the bacteriological agent.
Although Iraq insists it no longer possesses any biological or chemical weapons, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said in an interview with Britain's Channel Four news on Sunday that the military had issued chemical suits to some units. He said Iraq wanted to protect itself against chemical attacks by invading forces.
In a subsequent interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. , Aziz said Iraq would not attempt to strike other nations if attacked. "We will fight within our territory," he said. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles with conventional warheads at Israel and about 40 at Saudi Arabia.
But Aziz hinted that those restrictions would not apply to Kuwait, which Iraq invaded in August 1990 and where the United States is assembling a large military force for a possible invasion. "American troops are in Kuwait and preparing themselves to attack Iraq," Aziz said. "If there will be an attack from Kuwait, I cannot say that we will not retaliate."
Kuwait's defense minister, Jabir Hamad Sabah, told the Reuters news service that "Iraq would pay a high price" if it moved against Kuwait.
A spokesman for the U.N. inspection operation here said inspectors had asked to interview two more Iraqi scientists over the past two days, but both refused to be questioned in private. The spokesman, Hiro Ueki, said 16 scientists had been asked for private interviews and all had refused.
Under a Security Council resolution passed Nov. 8, Iraq is required to provide "private access" to anyone the inspectors wish to interview. U.S. officials regard Iraq's ability to produce scientists for such interviews as a key test of compliance with the resolution.
Although Iraqi officials insist they are encouraging their scientists to talk, U.S. and U.N. officials do not believe Iraq is trying hard enough. They said they believed the Iraqi government, if it wanted to, could compel its scientists to talk, but instead was dissuading them from speaking.
Rashid said Iraq was willing to discuss the problem with the inspectors to find a solution. A U.N. official said the inspectors had offered to let the scientists make audio or video tapes of their interviews. Blix and ElBaradei, he said, were considering a proposal to allow an independent witness who does not work for the Iraqi government or the United Nations to sit in on the questioning.