Two former U.S. weapons experts who worked in Iraq said on Tuesday that the new United Nations inspections can work to avoid war there if the team is given the personnel and intelligence support it needs.
"But some members of the Bush administration clearly want the weapons inspections to fail," giving it an excuse to go to war, said Jonathan B. Tucker, who worked as a U.N. inspector in Iraq in 1995.
Tucker, a fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a private organization, mentioned Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney as among those administration officials who seem to prefer war to an inspections regime.
Tucker, an expert on biological weapons of mass destruction, said the willingness of Bush to seek United Nations cooperation "is really just a cover for unilateral military action."
The American public, he said, "needs to hold the Bush administration accountable to its international legal obligations, including its pledge to respect the authority of the (U.N.) Security Council."
David Albright, a physicist who looked for nuclear weapons in Iraq from 1992 to 1997, said the 100 U.N. inspectors dispatched there may be only half the number really needed to cover a country as large as California.
Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said a "dilemma facing the U.S. is how much information it is willing to share with the U.N. team to make their work more effective."
Albright said, "Inspections can work in Iraq but only if the (U.N.) Security Council provides more effective systems and more resources than it has."
They said the lessons from the last inspections, which ended in 1997, showed that dogged detective work "managed to discern the broad outlines -- if not the full details -- of all of Iraq's prohibited weapons program."
The key lesson, they said, is that using all sources of information -- including interviews, aerial monitoring and satellite imagery -- can overcome Iraqi attempts to maintain false cover stories.
The two men differed on what would constitute "a material breach" of Iraq's pledge to cooperate with inspectors and an excuse for the United States to use force.
Tucker said "a constant failure over a number of weeks to cooperate with inspectors" would be a material breach. But Albright said one refusal by Iraq to admit inspectors to a site would do it.
Tucker and Albright spoke at a media forum sponsored by the Iraq Policy Information Project, an anti-war group.