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Rumsfeld: Iraq inspections would be 'very difficult'

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday that even if U.N. weapons inspectors were allowed to return to Iraq, it would be highly improbable that they would be able to conduct a thorough examination to determine the existence of weapons of mass destruction.

Rumsfeld was asked at the daily Pentagon briefing about whether the United Nations could embark on a vigorous inspections program. The inspectors left Iraq in late 1998, on the eve of a U.S.-British bombing to punish Iraq for not fully cooperating with them, and they have not been allowed to return.

"It is a big country. They've had years to do what they want to do. They have done a great deal of underground tunneling. They have things that are mobile. It makes it very difficult for inspectors under the best of circumstances to find things," said Rumsfeld, who, along with others in the Bush administration, is looking into the feasibility of an attack on Iraq to remove President Saddam Hussein from power.

Rumsfeld said the biggest successes that were achieved by inspectors was from information supplied by Iraqi inspectors.

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"And they were then able to use that information, go into areas and find some things. And when they found some things, Iraq admitted that they were the things that they said they were -- chemical, biological weapons of various types," he said.

The inspectors were there under a U.N. resolution passed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, to ensure that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction or the ability to launch them.

An inspections program, Rumsfeld said, "would have to be so intrusive -- it would have to be any time, any place. You'd have to be undoubtedly able to talk to anyone. You'd have to be able to, sometimes, talk to people outside of the country with their families with them, because, as you may recall, the defector who went out, when he returned to Iraq, was killed by Saddam Hussein. Two of them. I believe they were sons-in-laws of Saddam Hussein."

The defense secretary was asked his view about official Iraqi statements regarding weapons inspections. Monday, Iraq's information minister said in a TV interview that U.N. weapons inspections have been completed in Iraq and disputed claims that Iraq maintains weapons of mass destruction.

"It's like a broken record," Rumsfeld said. "They agreed to have inspectors. They threw the inspectors out. The inspectors are still out now for a period of years, and they are still not allowed back in."

The return of inspectors is a key demand of the United States as well as the U.N. Security Council. Under council resolutions, sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which led to the Gulf war, cannot be lifted until U.N. inspectors certify Iraq's biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons have been destroyed along with the long-range missiles to deliver them.

Iraq recently offered to reopen talks on allowing weapons inspectors to return and invited the top U.N. weapons inspector and members of the U.S. Congress to Iraq to check suspected weapons sites. Those invitations were declined.




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