UNITED NATIONS - In a defiant and taunting speech to the United Nations, Iraq's foreign minister delivered a message from Saddam Hussein yesterday, saying Iraq is free of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons - and welcoming inspections to prove it
The White House quickly dismissed the comments as a "disappointing failure."
The speech was the first comments attributed to the Iraqi leader since Iraq's surprise announcement this week that it would accept the unconditional return of international weapons inspectors nearly four years after they left.
Iraq's decision, which followed a tough speech last week by President Bush, has divided the major powers on the U.N. Security Council.
"Our country is ready to receive any scientific experts, accompanied by politicians you choose to represent any one of your countries, to tell us which places and scientific installations they would wish to see, particularly those about which the American officials have been fabricating false stories, alleging that they contain prohibited materials or activities," Foreign Minister Naji Sabri told the world body, quoting the Iraqi president.
"I hereby declare before you that Iraq is clear of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons," Sabri said, further quoting Saddam.
The speech to the U.N. General Assembly - one week after Bush addressed the gathering - was greeted with loud applause by diplomats from around the world.
In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the speech "presented nothing new and was more of the same."
"The speech is an attempt to lure the world down the same dead-end road that the world has traveled before, and in that, it represents a disappointing failure by Iraq," Fleischer said.
Appearing in the afternoon at the homeland security command center, Bush told reporters he had not heard the speech by Iraq's foreign minister.
"Let me guess: The United States is guilty, the world doesn't understand, we don't have weapons of mass destruction - it's the same old song and dance we've heard for 11 years," he said, calling anew for the United Nations to pass a get-tough resolution.
In the speech, the Iraqi president was quoted as saying he wanted a comprehensive solution to its problems with the United Nations to "bring to an end the cyclone of American accusations and fabricated crises against Iraq."
The speech heavily criticized the United States and Bush for trying to link Iraq to the tragedy of Sept. 11.
It charged that "the American propaganda machine, along with official statements of lies, distortion and falsehood," was being used for "inciting the American public against Iraq, and pushing them to accept the U.S. administration's schemes of aggression as a fait accompli."
Iraq called on the United Nations to help protect its sovereignty in the face of possible U.S. military action.
Also, it charged that the United States was working in concert with Israel and was trying to control the Middle East oil supply.
"The U.S. administration wants to destroy Iraq in order to control the Middle East oil and consequently control the politics as well as the oil and economic policies of the whole world," the foreign minister said.
He also charged that the United States was fomenting problems with Iraq to prevent the Security Council from lifting economic sanctions and to keep the Middle East from becoming a nuclear-free zone as called for in council resolutions.
The United States, he said, does not want to embarrass Israel - which he referred to as "the Zionist entity" - or deprive it of the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons it possesses.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, appearing before the House International Relations Committee, scoffed at Hussein's message and noted that it appeared to limit where inspectors might go.
Powell was referring to Hussein's demands that the inspectors respect Iraq's "rights, sovereignty and security" - which the Bush administration says is Iraqi code for keeping inspectors out of what Iraq calls "presidential" sites.
"He is already backing away, he is stepping away from the 'without conditions' statement they made on Monday," Powell said. "He's not deceiving anybody. It's a ploy we have seen before."
Many U.N. members, Powell said, want to take Iraq at its word and send inspectors back without any new resolution or new authority.
"This is [a] recipe for failure," he said.