Secretary of State Colin Powell held out the possibility Saturday that prewar Iraq may not have possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Powell was asked about comments last week by David Kay, the outgoing leader of a U.S. weapons search team in Iraq, that he did not believe Iraq had large quantities of chemical or biological weapons.
“The answer to that question is, we don’t know yet,” Powell told reporters as he traveling to this former Soviet republic to attend the inauguration Sunday of President-elect Mikhail Saakashvili.
Powell acknowledged that the United States thought deposed leader Saddam Hussein had banned weapons, but added, “We had questions that needed to be answered.
“What was it?” he asked. “One hundred tons, 500 tons or zero tons? Was it so many liters of anthrax, 10 times that amount or nothing?”
Almost a year has passed since Powell’s speech before the U.N. Security Council in which he accused Iraq of violating a U.N. weapons ban.
Since then, the Bush administration has been less categorical on the issue, contending that Saddam was actively pursuing banned weapons. The administration generally has avoided the issue of actual possession.
President Bush, in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, cited an interm report by Kay in October in which the inspector claimed to have found dozens of weapons-related programs in Iraq. Those programs would be continuing if the United States had not acted to oust Saddam’s government, Bush said.
Vice President Dick Cheney, in an interview Wednesday with National Public Radio, said the administration had not given up on the search for weapons. The “jury is still out,” he said.
“It’s going to take some additional, considerable period of time in order to look in all the cubby holes and the ammo dumps and all the places in Iraq where you might expect to find something like that,” Cheney said. “It doesn’t take a large storage space to store deadly toxins, or even just the capacity to produce it.”
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Friday that the administration stands by its assertions that Iraq had banned weapons at the time of the U.S.-led war and that it was only a matter of time before inspectors uncover their location.
“We believe the truth will come out,” he said.
Courtesy Josh Kirby