Tuesday, January 28, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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U.N. arms inspectors need more time

Perhaps the most disarming thing President Bush could do is share with the American people the cache of weapons intelligence about Iraq his administration claims to have.

In the absence of compelling and contrary information from the White House, the United Nations arms inspectors need the additional time they asked for yesterday.

Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix told the U.N. Security Council Iraq was not providing the documentary evidence needed to clear up questions, and Saddam Hussein's regime was clearly not reconciled to disarmament.

Paperwork accounting found huge gaps in inventories of chemical bombs, biological materials and how many Scud-type missiles Iraq may have hidden away. Blix said he could not assume the items either did or did not exist. He wants more time to look.

Inspectors have visited 400 sites in two months. More remain to be examined.

The Swedish diplomat's colleague, the head of the U.N. nuclear agency, was more blunt about his team's findings. Mohamed ElBaradei, of Egypt, said no evidence had been found that Iraq revived its nuclear-weapons program since it ended in the 1990s.

Security Council members were inclined to give inspections more time, over the protests of the United States.

The Bush administration sees the inspections as a stall and fundamentally disagrees that the burden is on inspectors to ferret out weapons of mass destruction. Secretary of State Colin Powell forcefully argued over the weekend that U.N. Resolution 1441 demands Iraq, not outsiders, prove it has disarmed.

The U.S. can get ahead of its critics two ways.

One is to share more intelligence material with U.N. inspectors. The discovery of 3,000 documents at the home of an Iraqi scientist is believed to have come from a recent, belated tip. American allies ought to be making their intelligence data available to Blix and his crews.

Second, if the Bush administration has evidence of Iraqi transgressions, it should be presented to the country. Powell hinted such might be forthcoming in the "days and weeks" ahead. It would be welcome in the president's State of the Union address tonight.

Skittish allies and a reluctant American public are waiting for more details. Absent those details, time gives inspectors opportunities to poke and prod for lies and omissions.

President Bush enjoys an enormous benefit of the doubt here at home after Sept. 11, 2001. If the administration knows of Iraqi ties to al-Qaida terrorists, or a growing military threat to the U.S. or its allies, share it sooner rather than later.


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