Saturday, June 04, 2005

White House Downplays Missing-Arms Report

White House Downplays Missing-Arms Report

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House on Friday played down a report in which U.N. weapons inspectors documented additional materials missing from weapons sites in Iraq.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the Bush administration had taken steps to ensure sites were secured, and he suggested it was doubtful the looted material was being used to boost other countries' weapons programs.

In a report to the U.N. Security Council, acting chief weapons inspector Demetrius Perricos said that satellite imagery experts had determined that material that could be used to make biological or chemical weapons and banned long-range missiles had been removed from 109 sites, up from 90 reported in March.

The sites have been emptied of equipment to varying degrees, with the largest percentage of missing items at 58 missile facilities.

For example, 289 of the 340 pieces of equipment to produce missiles - or about 85 percent, had been removed, the report said.

Biological sites were the least damaged, according to the analysts at the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission.

Perricos said he's reached no conclusions about who removed the items or where they went. He said it could have been moved elsewhere in Iraq, sold as scrap, melted down or purchased.

He said the missing material can be used for legitimate purposes. "However, they can also be utilized for prohibited purposes if in a good state of repair."

McClellan said that the United States has helped to remove low enriched uranium and radioactive sources, offered jobs to weapons experts from Saddam Hussein's programs to keep them from taking their expertise elsewhere, and helped Iraq establish an independent radioactive source regulatory authority.

"We have been working closely with the government in Iraq to ensure that Iraq's former weapons of mass destruction personnel and proliferation materials do not contribute to proliferation programs in other countries," McClellan said.

U.N. inspectors have been blocked from returning to Iraq since the U.S.-led war in 2003. They have been using satellite photos to see what happened to the sites that were subject to U.N. monitoring because their equipment had both civilian and military uses.

Since the war, U.S. teams took over the weapons search. Former chief arms hunter Charles Duelfer and his Iraq Survey Group found no weapons of mass destruction in the country, discrediting President Bush's stated rationale for invading Iraq.

McClellan referred to findings by Duelfer, saying that "any looting was the work of uncoordinated elements rather than directed at an effort to try to export equipment to a country that might obtain or have a weapons of mass destruction program."

He also noted that Duelfer had concluded that, since the looted materials are easily obtained elsewhere, "other governments are not likely to look to Iraq to buy used versions of it."