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White House: Bush misstated report on Iraq
President meets with Blair on strategy ahead of speech
NBC, MSNBC AND NEWS SERVICES
Sept. 7 Â? Seeking to build a case Saturday that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction, President Bush cited a satellite photograph and a report by the U.N. atomic energy agency as evidence of Iraq's impending rearmament. But in response to a report by NBC News, a senior administration official acknowledged Saturday night that the U.N. report drew no such conclusion, and a spokesman for the U.N. agency said the photograph had been misinterpreted.
Sept. 7 Â? President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair tried to show a united front on Iraq but communicated a confusing message instead. NBC's Norah O'Donnell reports.
BUSH AND BRITISH Prime Minister Tony Blair talked to reporters before opening about three hours of talks at Camp David, Bush's presidential retreat in the Maryland's Catoctin Mountains.
Blair cited a newly released satellite photo of Iraq identifying new construction at several sites linked in the past to Baghdad's development of nuclear weapons. And both leaders mentioned a 1998 report by the U.N.-affiliated International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, that said Saddam could be six months away from developing nuclear weapons.
Â?I don't know what more evidence we need,Â? Bush said as he greeted Blair for a brainstorming session on Iraq. Â?... We owe it to future generations to deal with this problem.Â?
In a joint appearance before the summit, the two leaders repeated their shared view that Saddam's ouster was the only way to stop Iraq's pursuit Â? and potential use Â? of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
Â?The policy of inaction is not a policy we can responsibly subscribe to,Â? Blair said as he joined Bush in trying to rally reluctant allies to deal with Saddam, perhaps by military force.
IAEA: NUCLEAR ABILITY DESTROYED
Contrary to Bush's claim, however, the 1998 IAEA report did not say that Iraq was six months away from developing nuclear capability, NBC News' Robert Windrem reported Saturday.
Instead, Windrem reported, the Vienna, Austria-based agency said in 1998 that Iraq had been six to 24 months away from such capability before the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the U.N.-monitored weapons inspections that followed.
The war and the inspections destroyed much of Iraq's nuclear infrastructure and required Iraq to turn over its highly enriched uranium and plutonium, Windrem reported.
In a summary of its 1998 report, the IAEA said that Â?based on all credible information available to date ... the IAEA has found no indication of Iraq having achieved its programme goal of producing nuclear weapons or of Iraq having retained a physical capability for the production of weapon-useable nuclear material or having clandestinely obtained such material.Â?
WHITE HOUSE ADMITS ERROR
A senior White House official acknowledged Saturday night that the 1998 report did not say what Bush claimed. Â?What happened was, we formed our own conclusions based on the report,Â? the official told NBC News' Norah O'Donnell.
Meanwhile, Mark Gwozdecky, a spokesman for the U.N. agency, disputed Bush's and Blair's assessment of the satellite photograph, which was first publicized Friday. Contrary to news service reports, there was no specific photo or building that aroused suspicions, he told Windrem.
The photograph in question was not U.N. intelligence imaging but simply a picture from a commercial satellite imaging company, Gwozdecky said. He said that the IAEA reviewed commercial satellite imagery regularly and that, from time to time, it noticed construction at sites it had previously examined.
Gwozdecky said the new construction indicated in the photograph was no surprise and that no conclusions were drawn from it. Â?There is not a single building we see,Â? he said.
NBC's Jim Avila reports on what Americans are saying about possible war with Iraq.
IRAQIS MET WITH U.N. OFFICIALS
Windrem reported that, of all the international inspection regimes Â? chemical, biological, missile and nuclear Â? it is the U.N. inspectors who are most comfortable with Iraq's cooperation on nuclear matters. In fact, the United Nations said last week that Iraq had been in contact with U.N. representatives about a possible new round of talks on weapons inspections.
Sept. 7 Â? A top deputy to Saddam Hussein said the United States wantes to dominate Iraq to control its vast oil reserves. NBC's Ron Allen reports from Baghdad.
A Security Council report Tuesday on the work of UNMOVIC Â? the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission Â? found that personnel from UNMOVIC and the atomic energy agency met in Vienna in July with Iraqi officials and Dr. Jaffar Jaffar, a high-level Iraqi contact on nuclear weapons issues.
The head of UNMOVIC also took part in what the report called a Â?dialogueÂ? between Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, the report said.
Tuesday's report stated that Sabri wrote Annan expressing Â?the desire of the Government of Iraq to conduct a round of technical talksÂ? between Iraqi officials and UNMOVIC representatives to review work on inspections between May 1991 and December 1998 and to discuss other matters to be resolved Â?when the inspection regime returns to Iraq.Â?
Sabri extended Â?the offer of Iraq to take part in a further series of technical discussionsÂ? in a letter last month, the U.N. report said.
U.S. officials insisted Saturday night that there was plenty of evidence nonetheless that Iraq was intent on developing weapons of mass destruction.
A senior administration official told NBC News that Iraq had also tried to acquire thousands of aluminum tubes over the past 14 months that would specifically be used in developing nuclear weapons. The shipments were blocked, said the official, who would not say where they originated.
Â?There continues to be ample evidence that Saddam Hussein has relentlessly tried to acquire and develop weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons,Â? the official said.
'A WAY FORWARD'
Bush and Blair met Saturday ahead of Bush's speech Thursday to the U.N. General Assembly to find ways to stop the threat posed by Saddam.
Blair said some international leaders were raising Â?perfectly reasonable questionsÂ? about a possible military attack on Iraq. Many U.S. and British allies are voicing doubts about a pre-emptive attack.
Â?We've got to make sure that we work out a way forward that, of course, mobilizes the maximum support but does so on the basis of removing a threat that the United Nations itself has determined is a threat to the whole of the world,Â? Blair said.
Aides insisted that Bush had not settled on when or even whether to use a military attack or other means to accomplish that goal. Regardless, Blair Â? in marked contrast to other U.S. allies who have urged caution Â? said the United States should not have to go it alone.
Â?I do think it's important we get the broadest possible support for what we do,Â? Blair told reporters earlier Saturday aboard his plane. Â?We have always got to act lawfully, and that we will do.Â?
The Washington Post reported Saturday that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office on Friday night withdrew a 2,300-word article he had written for Sunday's editions making the case for pre-emptive military action. The article cited the three countries Bush has called the Â?axis of evilÂ? Â? Iraq, Iran and North Korea Â? as well as Libya and Syria.
Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said Rumsfeld withdrew the article because the timing Â?was not right,Â? the Post reported.
CNN reported Friday that former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter was to return to Iraq and meet with senior Iraqi officials. According to the network, Ritter was also to address the Iraqi national assembly, but it was unclear whether he would meet with Saddam.
Ritter told CNN in a July interview that he opposed strikes against Iraq because Â?no one has substantiated the allegations that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction or is attempting to acquire weapons of mass destruction.Â?
The Pentagon played down British media reports Friday of the U.S.-UK air attack on Iraq. Military officials in Washington and Britain's Defense Ministry said a front-page report in the Daily Telegraph was exaggerated.
MSNBC.com's Michael E. Ross, NBC's Robert Windrem, Norah O'Donnell and Steffie Fields, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.