WASHINGTON - U.S. officials briefed United Nations weapons inspectors yesterday on intelligence about Saddam Hussein's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs, setting in motion what the Bush administration hopes will be an aggressive early test of Iraqi cooperation.
The briefing, by State Department and intelligence officials to the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, offered the first significant transfer of intelligence under the Security Council's new inspections program, a senior administration official said.
President Bush and other administration officials expect Hussein to allow inspectors back into his country, even though his parliament defiantly rejected yesterday the inspection terms laid down in a U.N. Security Council resolution passed unanimously Friday.
UNMOVIC is responsible for ferreting out Iraq's chemical, biological and missile programs. A separate briefing is planned this week in Vienna for inspectors at the International Atomic Energy Agency, which will search for Iraq's nuclear programs.
The Security Council resolution calls for U.N. member countries to provide the inspectors with information about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. The heads of the two U.N. agencies, Hans Blix at UNMOVIC and Mohamed El Baradei at IAEA, have also asked the U.S. and other governments for intelligence help.
In complying, the Bush administration is also putting the inspectors on notice that it will be watching closely to see how the two agencies use the intelligence in designing their inspections programs and evaluating disclosures required of Iraq.
"We're going to push Blix very hard," the senior administration official said yesterday.
France and Britain also are expected to turn over intelligence they have collected on Iraq.
President Bush said yesterday the United States will have no patience with Iraqi delays, deception or attempts to negotiate how the inspections are to be conducted.
"It's over. We're through negotiations, there's no more time. The man must disarm," Bush said in a brief exchange with reporters, again threatening to lead a military coalition to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction if Hussein failed to do it himself.
"This kind of deception and delay - all that is over with," Bush said. "There's a zero-tolerance policy now."
While Bush administration officials say they respect Blix's and El Baradei's toughness and professionalism, they are not sure how eager the two U.N. officials are to provoke a confrontation with Iraq that could hasten a U.S. invasion to topple Hussein's regime.
U.N. inspectors are expected to act on new information from the United States and other governments, but also plan to check on a number of sites that were inspected before Hussein barred inspectors from Iraq in 1998.
The administration wants UNMOVIC and IAEA, which have lists of more than 700 sites in Iraq, to concentrate initially on a few sensitive targets. "It's more a matter of a half-dozen where, if Blix is aggressive, he will bring it to a head quickly and expose Iraqi deception," the senior official said.
Officials with the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella organization of exile groups opposed to Hussein, said it is important for the inspectors to immediately burrow into the government agencies used by the Iraqi dictator to conceal his weapons programs.
Among the most important is the Special Security Organization, the country's top intelligence agency, which is headed by Hussein's son Qusay.
Zaab Sethna, an adviser to the INC in London, said SSO records and logbooks, along with the deployment of vehicles and forces, would help pinpoint the movement and concealment of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear programs.
Sethna said the INC is in contact with two defectors from the SSO who have provided the U.S. government with more information about the organization's inner workings. "We have a complete organizational chart of senior officers," Sethna said. "We know the layout of their headquarters."
The United Nations' use of intelligence is a sensitive subject. Mindful that inspectors have been accused in the past of spying for the United States, Blix has said the supply of information will be a one-way street: UNMOVIC won't engage in supplying information to U.N. member governments. U.S. officials, in turn, have voiced concern in the past about turning over highly classified information to the United Nations, for fear it might not be adequately safeguarded.
Western officials acknowledge that reliable intelligence on Iraq is difficult to obtain. In the past, inspectors have at times found the information out of date or inaccurate, including some accounts provided by defectors. They say there is no substitute for conducting on-the-ground inspections and face-to-face interviews.