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Bush Sees Iraqi Rockets as 'Troubling, Serious' Situation

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 17, 2003 – President Bush believes the discovery of a dozen empty rocket heads designed to deliver chemical weapons is a "troubling and serious" development, his lead spokesman said today.

Ari Fleischer said at a routine White House press briefing that the 12 warheads U.N. inspectors discovered in Iraq Jan. 16 are not listed in the declaration that country submitted to the U.N. Security Council.

The warheads were discovered in a bunker constructed in the late 1990s "just outside Baghdad," Fleischer said.

He wouldn't call the discovery the proverbial "smoking gun" that would lead the United States to declare war on Iraq. "More information about this very discovery needs to be obtained," he said.

Fleischer indicated Bush wouldn't go to war without making his case to the American people. "If the president does decide that war is the only option to protect the American people and the region and the world from Saddam Hussein, who has not disarmed, the president will, of course, make a case to the American people," he said. "The president recognizes that our democracy does not go to war without all the issues being explored by the American people. "

U.N. weapons inspectors working in Iraq are scheduled to give an update on their progress to the Security Council Jan. 27. Fleischer said this date is not a deadline for Bush to decide to go to war.

"Nobody has called that a deadline," he said, calling Jan. 27 "an important reporting date." Bush has said he will make a final decision regarding potential military action against Iraq only when he feels there is no other choice.

"I think Saddam Hussein needs to get the very clear understanding and message from the United States and from the world that he needs to disarm, that this is indeed serious," Fleischer said.

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