Powell restates Iraq WMD ''open question'' as Iraqi exile group says intelligence given to London on WMD ''false''
US Secretary of State Colin Powell reiterated that it was an "open question" as to whether stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were hidden in Iraq, at the end of a two-day visit targeted towards moving US-Russian relations beyond the dispute over the Iraq war.
He said that Moscow and Washington had put aside their disagreement over the need for the war and were both "trying to look forward toward the future and not the past."
In addition, Powell defended pre-war intelligence used to argue the American case for launching war.
"There were programs that were clearly intended to produce weapons of mass destruction. They had the intention to produce weapons of mass destruction, and we knew they previously had stockpiles," Powell said in a live interview on Moscow Echo radio.
"What we are now looking at is whether there are still stockpiles and that is an open question, but that we have sent back a new chief inspector," he said late Monday.
Moreover, Powell conceded that the Bush administration was no longer certain that stockpiles were still in occupied Iraq. However, he argued that Saddam had had the "full intention" of creating new deadly weapons in the future.
Washington intends "to finally answer the question" of whether Iraq had stockpiles or not, he said.
"There is also no doubt in my mind that what Hussein was trying to do was to get the international community to stop looking at him, to get relief from all of the sanctions so that he could go back to his programs and develop these weapons.
"He had never lost the intention to develop even more deadly weapons," Powell said.
"We had a positive discussion about Iraq," Powell said of his meeting with President Putin. "There is no question that last year there was a serious disagreement.... but now we are cooperating again in helping rebuild Iraq."
Meanwhile, the White House said it needs more time to determine whether Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
The issue was injected into the US presidential campaign when retired chief weapons inspector David Kay said he had concluded, after several months of intense searching, that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein did not have stockpiles of forbidden weapons.
Campaigning in New Hampshire, Senator John Kerry, seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, said Bush had misled the people.
"When the president of the United States looks at you and tells you something, there should be some trust. He's broken every one of those promises," the Massachusetts senator said.
In the meantime, Howard Dean, another Democratic candidate, said, "The White House has not been candid with the American people about virtually anything with the Iraq war."
In a related development, an Iraqi exile group in London which claims to have supplied London with a major piece of intelligence on Iraqi weapons has admitted that the information might have been false, the British Guardian reported Tuesday.
The claim that ousted leader Saddam Hussein was able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of the order being given was a headline-grabbing assertion in a British government dossier published in September 2002, in the run-up to the Iraq war.
In addition, it was at the core of a row between the British government and the BBC over allegations that Downing Street "sexed up" intelligence on Iraq's weapons ahead of the war.
However, Nick Theros - the Washington representative of Iyad Allawi, who headed the Iraqi National Accord in exile and is now a member of the Iraqi Governing Council in Baghdad, said the 45-minute claim was "raw information from a single source", part of a large amount of information passed on by the INA to British intelligence.
Theros told the Guardian, "We were passing it on in good faith. It was for the intelligence services to verify it."
Theros said the information now seemed to be baseless, a "crock of shit". "Clearly we have not found WMD", he stated.
Theros said the Iraqi officer who claims to have been the original source of the intelligence passed on by the INA had in fact never seen purported chemical weapons crates upon which his 45-minute claim was based. (Albawaba.com)
© 2004 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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