Political Sparring Over WMD Report

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CBS
President Bush and key Democrats sparred over what arms-hunter David Kay told Congress about the thus-far fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

CBS News Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts reports they reached different conclusions from the same words.

Mr. Bush put a positive spin on the report, noting that it cited "dozens of WMD-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations"

But the fact Kay found no actual weapons shows just the opposite, Democrats said Friday.

"It is clear to me that there was no imminence of a threat," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

A day earlier, Iraqi Survey Group leader David Kay told Congress his 1,200-member team had found no weapons, but had discovered signs that Iraq maintained capabilities that could have been used to develop biological weapons.

Mr. Bush said the investigation showed that Saddam was violating U.N. resolutions demanding that he disarm. "The report states that Saddam Hussein's regime had a clandestine network of biological laboratories, a live strain of deadly agent botulinum, sophisticated concealment efforts, and advanced design work on prohibited longer range missiles," the president said.

He said the findings show that Saddam "actively deceived the international community, that Saddam Hussein, was in clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1441 and that Saddam Hussein was a danger to the world," he said.

Mr. Bush did not reply directly when asked if he was still confident that banned weapons would be found.

In a statement to several congressional committees Thursday, Kay only made one strong finding — that Saddam was actively developing missiles that exceeded range limits imposed by the United Nations.

"In addition to intent, we have found a large body of continuing activities and equipment that were not declared to the U.N. inspectors when they returned in November of last year," Kay said.

Kay did say, however, that there was evidence that Iraq "focused on maintaining small, covert capabilities that could be activated quickly to surge the production of (biological weapons) agents."

To that end, he described "a clandestine network of laboratories and safehouses within the Iraqi Intelligence Service that contained equipment…suitable for continuing (chemical and biological weapon) research." Whether the equipment was actually utilized for that purpose, Kay's report does not say.

Kay said the information on trailers alleged to be mobile biological weapons labs was inconclusive.

Senior military officials involved in the hunt for alleged weapons of mass destruction tell The Associated Press that the CIA and weapons inspectors are reevaluating the trailers.

The CIA had described them in May as mobile weapons factories. But sources from the State Department and Defense Intelligence Agency say they believe the trailers were probably used to fill hydrogen weather balloons.

Taken together, Kay's findings do not validate most of Bush's prewar assertions that Saddam had widespread chemical and biological weapons and programs to make more, and was developing a nuclear weapon. Kay did not address U.S. assertions about Saddam's ties to terrorist groups, particularly al Qaeda.

Kay said he should know within six to nine months if there is more to be found in Iraq. The administration is asking for $600 million to continue the search, according to congressional officials.

Mr. Bush's war allies joined the president in interpreting the report as supportive of the case for war. Australia's Prime Minister John Howard stressed that the report is an interim one, and said final judgment should be suspended until Kay's work in Iraq is complete. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Friday, "The fact they have not found weapons obviously does not mean weapons were not there."

But critics have contended that the U.S. intelligence community made serious errors in its analysis of the threat posed by Iraq or the administration exaggerated what intelligence information it did have to persuade a skeptical world to support an invasion.

"I'm not pleased by what I heard today, but we should be willing to adopt a wait-and-see attitude — and that's the only alternative we really have," said Sen. Pat Roberts, Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, tells CBS the report supports the argument that the Bush administration hyped the threat of Iraq.

"There's no question - that before the war in Iraq - the administration exaggerated the hard evidence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program,'' said Gelb.

A leading congressional critic, House Democratic Leader Pelosi said the results of the search to date demonstrated no imminent threat existed "and there was time for more diplomatic effort before we went to war."

Pelosi, D-Calif., who met with Kay in a secure room in the Capitol, emerged to tell reporters the discoveries made so far are evidence of Iraq's aspiration for a weapons program. But, she added, there was a difference between that and achieving the ability to deploy such weapons.

Pelosi, who voted against last year's authorization of the use of force in Iraq, said the classified intelligence she saw at the time did not support the claim of an imminent threat of the banned weapons.

"That was correct," she told reporters after meeting with Kay."