Sept. 7 - Seeking to build a case Saturday that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction, President Bush cited a satellite photograph and a report by the U.N. atomic energy agency as evidence of Iraq's impending rearmament. But in response to a report by NBC News, a senior administration official acknowledged Saturday night that the U.N. report drew no such conclusion, and a spokesman for the U.N. agency said the photograph had been misinterpreted.
BUSH AND BRITISH Prime Minister Tony Blair talked to reporters before opening about three hours of talks at Camp David, Bush's presidential retreat in Maryland.
Blair cited a newly released satellite photo of Iraq identifying new construction at several sites linked in the past to Baghdad's development of nuclear weapons. And both leaders mentioned a 1998 report by the U.N.-affiliated International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, that said Saddam could be six months away from developing nuclear weapons.
"I don't know what more evidence we need," Bush said as he greeted Blair for a brainstorming session on Iraq. "We owe it to future generations to deal with this problem."
In a joint appearance before the summit, the two leaders repeated their shared view that Saddam's ouster was the only way to stop Iraq's pursuit - and potential use - of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
"The policy of inaction is not a policy we can responsibly subscribe to," Blair said as he joined Bush in trying to rally reluctant allies to deal with Saddam, perhaps by military force.
Contrary to Bush's claim, however, the 1998 IAEA report did not say that Iraq was six months away from developing nuclear capability, NBC News' Robert Windrem reported Saturday.
Instead, Windrem reported, the Vienna, Austria-based agency said in 1998 that Iraq had been six to 24 months away from such capability before the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the U.N.-monitored weapons inspections that followed.
The war and the inspections destroyed much of Iraq's nuclear infrastructure and required Iraq to turn over its highly enriched uranium and plutonium, Windrem reported.
In a summary of its 1998 report, the IAEA said that "based on all credible information available to date ... the IAEA has found no indication of Iraq having achieved its programme goal of producing nuclear weapons or of Iraq having retained a physical capability for the production of weapon-useable nuclear material or having clandestinely obtained such material."
A senior White House official acknowledged Saturday night that the 1998 report did not say what Bush claimed. "What happened was, we formed our own conclusions based on the report," the official told NBC News' Norah O'Donnell.
Meanwhile, Mark Gwozdecky, a spokesman for the U.N. agency, disputed Bush's and Blair's assessment of the satellite photograph, which was first publicized Friday. Contrary to news service reports, there was no specific photo or building that aroused suspicions, he told Windrem.
The photograph in question was not U.N. intelligence imaging but simply a picture from a commercial satellite imaging company, Gwozdecky said. He said that the IAEA reviewed commercial satellite imagery regularly and that, from time to time, it noticed construction at sites it had previously examined.
Gwozdecky said the new construction indicated in the photograph was no surprise and that no conclusions were drawn from it. "There is not a single building we see," he said.