Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, addressing growing concerns that massive allied bombing raids failed to eliminate Iraq's nuclear weapons arsenal, acknowledged Thursday that Iraq may have had some nuclear facilities so well concealed that they escaped destruction.
Cheney said the Administration wants a U.N. team to search "every conceivable site" where facilities may be hidden.
In addition, he said, U.S. intelligence agencies are doing all they can to "get a better assessment of what remains" of Iraq's ability to produce weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the missiles needed to deliver them.
While the allied raids did "enormous damage" to Baghdad's ability to produce such weapons, "what remains of those capabilities, what may have been hidden, the facilities that we didn't know about, obviously, we can't say. . . ," Cheney said at a breakfast session with reporters.
The defense secretary declined to comment on reports that a senior Iraqi nuclear scientist who defected to the United States recently told Defense Department experts that a significant part of Iraq's nuclear research facilities survived the bombing raids.
The experts debriefed the scientist as part of a broader effort to determine whether Iraq is capable of developing a nuclear weapon.
U.S. analysts believed before the war that Baghdad's ambitious nuclear weapons program was two to five years from developing a workable atomic bomb.
Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams, elaborating later on Cheney's remarks, said: "We know that we did a great deal of damage to Iraq's ability to develop, deploy, use, do research on weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and also their ability to put them on missiles . . . (but) we can't be in a position, never have been in a position to say we know with absolute certainty that we got 100% of it."
Cheney said it's "very important" that Iraq be forced to comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 687, calling for the "destruction, removal or rendering harmless" of Iraqi nuclear weapons materials. Under the resolution, a 34-member international team has been inspecting all known facilities for weapons of mass destruction.
State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said Thursday that Washington is donating $2 million to the U.N. team.
Under terms of the U.N. mandate, Cheney noted, Iraq must comply with the resolution "before there's any restoration of normal relations between Iraq and the rest of the world."
Both Cheney and the White House disagreed Thursday with Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf's harsh assessment that information from national intelligence agencies during the Persian Gulf War was seriously flawed.
The commander of allied forces in the Persian Gulf told the Senate Armed Services Committee that battlefield analyses from the agencies were "caveated, disagreed with, footnoted and watered down" to the point of uselessness."
Although battlefield decisions ultimately were made on the basis of the military leaders' own analyses, as they should have been, Cheney said, the performance of the nation's intelligence agencies was "significantly better" than in previous combat operations.
He said that because of the sheer volume of information produced by the agencies, he did not "find it surprising that there were differences." At the White House, Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater insisted that "there's no differences between us and the general on this matter," but he went on to say, "Our attitude towards intelligence is that it was good and it was effective and it worked and the results speak to that."