British Intel Details Scope of Saddam's Weapons
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 24, 2002 President Bush today praised British Prime Minister Tony Blair for releasing a report in London that further makes the case Saddam Hussein is a threat to peace in the world.
Blair released a dossier this morning compiled by British intelligence that outlines the presumed extent of Hussein's weapons of mass destruction program. He said the British intelligence agency responsible for keeping him informed believes Hussein has continued to build his chemical and biological weapons programs after more than a decade of flouting U.N. sanctions that require open access to international weapons inspectors.
"Prime Minister Blair is a very strong leader, and I admire his willingness to tell the truth and to lead," Bush said in comments to the press after a Cabinet meeting at the White House.
Bush and Blair continue to pound home the same message. "He continues to make the case, like we make the case, that Saddam Hussein is a threat to peace," Bush said of Blair.
Blair's comments before Parliament this morning come a day after strong statements by Bush that Hussein is willing to team up with terrorist groups to attack America and its allies.
"This is a man who would use weapons of mass destruction at the drop of a hat," Bush said Sept. 23 at a National Guard facility in New Jersey.
Britain is a staunch ally of the United States, and the two leaders' recent public comments seem to shore up each others' feelings. In his speech this morning, Blair spent considerable time describing the details of Iraq's past and recent disregard for U.N. resolutions.
"I set out the history in some detail because occasionally debate on this issue seems to treat it as if it had suddenly arisen, coming out of nowhere on a whim in the last few months of 2002," Blair said. "It is an 11-year history: a history of U.N. will flouted, lies told by Saddam about existence of his chemical biological and nuclear weapons programs, obstruction, defiance and denial."
The prime minister said the only consistent theme in Iraq's history since the Persian Gulf War is Hussein's total determination to maintain his weapons program.
In the dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program, the British government maintains that in 1998 Iraq had 360 tons of bulk chemical warfare agents, including one and a half tons of VX nerve agent, and also had 3,000 tons of "precursor chemicals," which could be used to create chemical weapons.
The report also says that at the same time Iraq had enough "growth media" to produce 26,000 liters of anthrax spores and tens of thousands of special munitions for the delivery of chemical and biological agents, according to Blair.
The British Joint Intelligence Committee compiled the information. Blair explained this group's work is normally classified.
"Unusually, because it is important to explain our concerns over Saddam to the British people, we have decided to disclose these assessments," he said.
Since 1998, the report states, Iraq had rebuilt previously destroyed chemical and biological weapons facilities and has acquired large amounts of needed chemicals and equipment by purchasing and smuggling dual-use items. Britain now believes Iraq can produce many biological agents, including anthrax, botulinum toxin, aflatoxin and ricin.
Money taken illegally from the U.N. Oil for Food program has bankrolled many of these purchases. Blair alleged today that Saddam siphons $3 billion from the program every year.
Iraq's nuclear capabilities have increasingly alarmed the international community as well. Blair said Hussein has attempted to buy large amounts of uranium from sources in Africa and no one is sure if he was successful. Intelligence agencies have also shown that Iraq has bought or tried to buy equipment to produce enriched uranium needed to build nuclear weapons.
All the evidence points to one thing, Blair said. "The case for ensuring Iraqi disarmament is overwhelming," he said. "I defy anyone on the basis of this evidence to say that it is an unreasonable demand for the international community to make when, after all, it is only the same demand that we have made for 11 years and (Saddam) has rejected."
Bush backed up these comments with another call for the United Nations to pass a strong resolution on Iraq. "And if they're unable to do so, the United States and our friends will act because we believe in peace," he said today. "We want to keep the peace. We don't trust this man, and that's what the Blair report showed today."