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White House Calls Empty Chemical Warheads - 2003-01-17


The White House is calling the discovery of empty warheads for chemical weapons in Iraq "troubling and serious."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says U-S officials checked Iraq's recent weapons declaration to the United Nations and did not find the 12 warheads listed.

He says it has become increasingly clear that Saddam Hussein is not disarming as required under U-N resolutions.

In London, a British Foreign Office minister (Mike O'Brien) says Britain is in "no rush to judgement" over the discovery made by U-N weapons inspectors Thursday.

Russia and France say the warheads' discovery shows that U-N weapons inspectors need more time to do their work.

The Russian Foreign Ministry says Thursday's discovery confirms the effectiveness of the ongoing inspections. It also says Baghdad is in complete compliance with U-N resolutions demanding that inspectors receive free access to all suspect weapons sites.

In Paris, French President Jacques Chirac says it would be "wise" to give the inspectors more time. He said France would not support any attack on Iraq without approval from the U-N Security Council.

Mr. Chirac made the comments today (Friday) after meeting with the chief U-N weapons inspector, Hans Blix, and the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. ElBaradei said inspectors need a few more months to do their work.He said the wait would be time well spent if it avoids war.

Mr. Blix told reporters that the discovery of the empty warheads is, in his words, "not a huge thing." U-N and Iraqi officials disagree on whether the warheads were in Iraq's 12-thousand page weapons declaration to the United Nations.

Meanwhile, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein says the United States would be, in his words, committing suicide if it tries to invade Baghdad.

In a speech marking the anniversary of the start of the 1991 Gulf War, President Saddam said Iraq is determined to defeat any aggressor. His speech today (Friday) comes amid a continued buildup of U-S military forces in the region.

President Bush says he is prepared to send forces into Iraq if Baghdad does not give up its weapons of mass destruction. Iraq says it no longer has such weapons.

Mr. Blix and Mr. ElBaradei plan to visit Iraqi officials Sunday before giving a report to the U-N Security Council on January 27th.

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