WASHINGTON (AP) – The Bush administration said yesterday U.N. inspections in Iraq should not go on indefinitely, given what officials contend is Iraq’s refusal to provide full disclosure of an arsenal of forbidden weapons.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the inspectors themselves have indicated that Iraq has failed in a number of areas to cooperate fully with U.N. Security Council requirements.

“There’s no point in continuing forever, going on, if Iraq is not cooperating,” Boucher said.

The comments came against a background of strong sentiment in Europe that a military attack against Iraq should not take place without the specific endorsement of the Security Council.

A senior administration official, speaking to reporters in Germany yesterday on condition that he not be identified, said countries that support that view only encourage Saddam Hussein not to cooperate with the inspectors.

Hours later, inspectors said they found 11 empty chemical warheads at an ammunition storage area 75 miles south of Baghdad.The disclosure could change the dynamic of the debate over Iraq at the United Nations if the find represents the “smoking gun” that the inspectors had been unable to uncover during their first two months on the ground.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana has said he cannot see how a war against Iraq can start without clear evidence Iraq pursues biological, chemical and nuclear arms in violation of U.N. resolutions. He has not said what his position would be if such evidence were uncovered.

But he has said it is the general view of EU members that a military strike against Iraq should have the prior endorsement of the Security Council. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan agreed.

Boucher said he had not been informed by the time of his briefing of the chemical warheads find in Iraq but added the news did not surprise him.

Making the case that time is running out on Saddam, Boucher said the Iraqi leader has failed to comply with 16 Security Council resolutions and appears to be going on 17.

“He’s failed every time,” Boucher said. He added, however, that Jan. 27 – the date when the next U.N. inspectors’ report is due – should not be viewed as a deadline for an attack.

He said the Security Council will first consider the question of whether Iraq is in compliance with the resolution. Only afterward would the Council decide on next steps, he said.

The chief U.N. inspector, Hans Blix, believes that, in addition to the Jan. 27 report, he has a March 27 deadline to issue another, based on 1999 language that set up the U.N. inspection team.

Boucher declined to describe the U.S. view of that deadline but other officials said they believe it should be disregarded because it could be used by U.S. critics as an excuse to delay a confrontation with Iraq.

U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the administration should respect the March deadline.

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