U.S. Takes the Lead on Analyzing Iraq Weapons Tome

W By Robin Wright and Maggie Farley

wASHINGTON – Overcoming initial objections from some U.N. members, the United States got a jump Monday on analyzing Iraq’s voluminous weapons declaration after pushing through the weekend to get the original sent down from New York.

The 11,807-page declaration was whisked overnight from New York to Washington after a weekend of intense diplomacy by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and U.N. Ambassador John D. Negroponte, who helped persuade the 14 other Security Council members to change the arrangements for reviewing the document.

Scientists and intelligence experts immediately set to the laborious task of dissecting the document even as it was copied for the U.N. weapons specialists and permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

The only part of the document made public Monday was its table of contents, whose entries include “nuclear materials,” “terminated radiation bomb project” and “production of ricin toxin.”

In one of the first tentative analyses of the dossier, the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria, said Baghdad’s 2,400-page section on nuclear weapons, which is being analyzed separately from sections on three other categories of weapons, looks very much like its statements before 1998, when the weapons inspectors left Iraq, according to Mark Gwozdecky, an IAEA spokesman.

The declaration lists Iraq’s research on and development of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as ballistic missiles. It contains recipes for the production of agents and weapons and includes the names of foreign suppliers that provided Iraq with essential elements.

The dossier was whisked overnight from New York to Washington, where the laborious process of dissecting it began even as it was also copied for U.N. weapons specialists and the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

Although it may be several days before U.S. intelligence concludes its analysis, the Bush administration is already expressing doubt that Baghdad fully disclosed its arsenal. The White House expressed particular alarm Monday over Iraq’s apparent acknowledgment Sunday that it had been very close to building a nuclear bomb.

“In terms of overall Iraqi statements, you need only look at the wistful way that leading Iraqi generals describe how close they came to getting nuclear weapons. That’s why the United States is skeptical of Iraqi intentions,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.

The way President Saddam Hussein’s regime publicly “yearned” to build a nuclear arsenal “gives reason to pause and recognize that Iraq is a threat,” he added.

The Iraqi report cites where the weapons work took place, but authorities in Baghdad claim that all specialized weapons facilities have been destroyed or converted to peaceful uses.

The Security Council has been concerned about the document’s dissemination, not only because it provides information on Iraq’s weapons-making techniques, but also because it contains the names of countries and companies that assisted Iraq with equipment and know-how.

The United States, with British backing, made the case that it should take the sealed set of documents and CDs when they arrived in New York because the U.N. copying services were too slow and insecure to handle the job. The weekend contacts reflect the degree to which Washington has retained control over the Iraq crisis, even under an international aegis.

On Saturday morning, Negroponte called Colombian Ambassador Alfonso Valdivieso, president of the Security Council, to inform him of a brewing deal among the permanent five council members. “He said they wanted to make some changes to the previous understanding, and that was it,” Valdivieso said Monday.

Syria was the only nation clearly against the changes, according to diplomatic sources. Mexico resisted at first, having pressed on Friday for all 15 members to receive the same version of the declaration at the same time, as a matter of fairness. But Powell persuaded Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda, according to a Western diplomat.