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TIME WASTERS; Angry arms inspectors hit out at US spy chiefs.

Byline: RICHARD WALLACE, US Editor, in New York

US spy chiefs were branded "time wasters" yesterday after weapons inspectors rubbished their claimed evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Angry and frustrated at being given vague or wrong information, a senior member of the UN team said they had been fed "garbage after garbage after garbage".

Inspectors said: "It took a long time for the US to hand over intelligence in the first place, and when they did it proved to be highly inaccurate.

"The intelligence is circumstantial, outdated or completely wrong. It's wasting our time and our resources.

"Frankly, we have better things to do than run around the country chasing bogus so-called evidence."

The broadside will fuel UN Security Council opposition to war on Iraq just as the US and Britain seek a new resolution supporting the use of force.

It came after it was revealed President Bush and his closest aides will speak to every Security Council member this weekend in a bid to win them over.

Earlier Tony Blair, speaking after a two and a half hour meeting with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, said war could not be avoided unless Saddam Hussein peacefully disarmed.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw warned there was evidence the tyrant was planning to use chemical and bio-weapons.

On February 5, US Secretary of State Colin Powell presented a dossier of "undeniable" evidence to the Security Council claiming that it proved Saddam was harbouring WMD.

But inspectors say: They found NOTHING at an alleged nuclear site shown in satellite pictures presented to the UN by Mr Powell. They found NOTHING at one of Saddam's palaces where they were given precise map co-ordinates of incriminating evidence.

US claims that aluminium tubes imported by Iraq were being used for enriching uranium rather than to make rockets were BOGUS. One inspector said: "The Iraqi alibi on this is airtight."

The Iraqi al-Samoud 2 missile system - which the US says has a range of 800 miles, way above the 93-mile limit - flies only 15 miles over the legal range.

Charges that Iraq is developing missiles that can hit Kuwait or Israel are "increasingly unbelievable".

The inspectors told respected US broadcaster CBS News they now believe they are caught in the middle between Iraqi delaying tactics and America's thirst for military action.

When Mr Powell spoke to the Security Council he admitted photo evidence of alleged Iraqi wrongdoing was "hard to interpret".

He produced tapes in which Iraqi officers talked about covering up banned weapons, and claimed Iraqi links with al-Qaeda.

He also insisted Iraq was developing nuclear weapons, but produced no evidence.

Mr Bush, Mr Powell, Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice will now speak to each of the 14 other Security Council members to try to to win support for a second UN resolution.

The White House said: "There are 15 votes. Every vote is important." Mr Powell suggested war could still be averted if Saddam went into exile. Insisting the dictator had made no serious offer to co-operate with inspectors, he said: "If he complies, or if he leaves the country tomorrow, there will be no war."

Most of the 15 Council members are opposed to war, at least until weapons inspectors report again in mid-March.

In New York, a UN spokesman said Iraq had had submitted a list of people involved in the destruction of banned weapons - a key demand by chief weapons inspector Hans Blix.

The inspectors' damning criticism was a huge blow for Mr Blair who meets the Pope today.

Speaking after his meeting with Mr Berlusconi, who supports the US-British stance, the Premier said: "We do not want war, no one wants war. But there is a moral dimension to this. If we fail to disarm Saddam peacefully then where does this leave the authority of the UN? Where does it leave the Iraqi people?

"I totally share the dislike of any member of the church or wider society for war. But in the end, I can't avoid it unless Saddam chooses peaceful disarmament. He knows what he has to do. Does he have the will?"

In London Mr Straw said Saddam must be disarmed by force if necessary.

He told the Royal Institute for International Affairs: "As people learn more about the nature of the regime, I'm convinced they'll increasingly see why it must be disarmed of its terrible weaponry even if, as a last resort, that means military action.

"Intelligence shows Saddam's plans envisage using chemical and biological weapons against a range of targets. Let us be clear that Iraq will again use these terrible weapons.

"This is a key part of the moral case - preventing Iraq launching more wars and dealing definitively with a tyrant who continues to flout international law."

On Wednesday the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor issued a statement doubting the "moral legitimacy" of war.

Turkey said last night that "broad agreement" had been reached with the US about using the country for any invasion of Iraq.

CAPTION(S):

KISS: Blair meets Berlusconi yesterday; EVIDENCE? Colin Powell at the UN
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Feb 22, 2003
Words:858
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