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Top U.S. politician: Iraq WMD may have gone to Syria
( 2004-01-22 13:31) (Agencies)

U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts said there was some concern Iraqi weapons of mass destruction had gone to Syria, and Washington vowed to carry on searching for such arms in Iraq.

Roberts, a leading member of President Bush's Republican Party, said on Wednesday: "I think that there is some concern that shipments of WMD (weapons of mass destruction) went to Syria." He did not elaborate.

Syria, which borders Iraq, has in the past denied U.S. charges it has weapons of mass destruction programs and supports "terrorist activity."

Bush, seeking re-election in November with Iraq high on the campaign agenda, ordered U.S.-led forces to oust Saddam Hussein after accusing him of possessing chemical and biological arms and trying to build a nuclear weapon.

"The jury is still out," Vice President Dick Cheney said on the failure so far to find any weapons of mass destruction since Saddam was toppled last April.

"It's going to take some additional considerable period of time to look at all of the cubby holes and...dumps and all the places in Iraq where you might expect to find something like that," Cheney told U.S. National Public Radio.


Cheney begins a five-day trip to Europe on Thursday designed to mend fences after bitter divisions in the international community over the Iraq war.

A senior Bush administration official said Cheney would join business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Saturday and seek other countries' help in rebuilding Iraq.

"They've got as much at stake in a successful outcome, for example in Iraq, or in dealing effectively with the war on terror or countering the spread of weapons of mass destruction as we do," the official said.

France, Germany and Russia were among states that openly opposed the Iraq war, while Britain, Spain and Italy were among those who backed Bush.

A political leader from Iraq's majority Shi'ite Muslim community said the top Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, was likely to drop a demand for early direct elections if the United Nations concluded they would not be feasible.

The U.S.-led occupying authorities say it would be difficult to hold elections before the planned June handover of power to Iraqis due to guerrilla attacks and the lack of electoral registers and laws.

Shi'ites, repressed during Saddam's three decades of iron rule, have held mass demonstrations in support of Sistani's call for elections. Saddam had his power base with Sunni Muslims.


U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is considering sending a team to Iraq at the request of Washington and the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council to study whether it would be possible to hold a national election in the next few months.

"If there is a U.N. delegation that has a background in electoral and census matters, and has an open dialogue...one side may be convinced by what the other says," said Ibrahim al-Jaafari, head of Iraq's Shi'ite Dawa party.

"Whatever the result, if it comes to an agreement, I believe Sistani will accept that," said Jaafari, who is also a member of the Governing Council.

Washington had previously criticized the United Nations for failing to back the war to topple Saddam and long resisted any role for the organization in postwar Iraq.

The United States has proposed regional caucuses to select a transitional assembly by the end of May that would in turn pick an interim government to take back sovereignty at the end of June. Full elections would follow in 2005.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait told the United States they were ready to discuss a major reduction in Iraq's debt, but both wanted to see a sovereign Iraqi government in place before any deal could be reached.

U.S. envoy James Baker visited both countries as part of a mission to reduce Iraq's estimated US$120 billion of foreign debt as Washington tries to rebuild a country battered by years of international isolation under Saddam but rich in oil reserves.

U.S. Congress sources and budget analysts said Bush may seek an additional US$40 billion or more for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan next year -- on top of the $400 billion military budget he will send to Congress next month.

But Bush was unlikely to send the request to Congress until after the November presidential election to minimize any political damage, the sources said.

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