United Nations, 7 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- France repeated its intention to block any UN Security Council resolution that authorizes military action to disarm Iraq after reports by the UN's top weapons inspectors (pictured).
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told the council today that France cannot accept any resolution that sets in motion a military option as long as inspectors have been reporting progress. France is one of five veto-holding members on the council.
"The military agenda should not dictate the inspection calendar. We are for an accelerated schedule, but we cannot accept an ultimatum."
The foreign ministers of Russia and China -- which also hold veto power -- also expressed their support for continued inspections instead of military force. They spoke after reports from chief UN inspector Hans Blix and Muhammad el-Baradei, the director of the nuclear regulatory agency, who cited improving cooperation from Iraq and said there was no evidence Baghdad had resumed weapons programs.
The United States and Britain have been pressing for a council resolution that stresses Iraqi noncompliance with immediate disarmament demands and authorizes military action.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer summed up the position of some of the initial council speakers today.
"Given the current situation and the ongoing process, we see no need for a second resolution. Why should we leave the path we have embarked on now that the inspections on the basis of Resolution 1441 are showing viable results?"
But U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the inspectors' reports add up to a catalogue of deception from Iraq tracing back 12 years. He said Iraq has taken small, conditional steps toward complying with inspectors rather than providing full cooperation required under Security Council resolution 1441, passed in November.
"So, has the strategic decision been made to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction by the leadership in Baghdad? My judgment, I think our judgment, has to be clearly not, and this is now the reality, we the council, must deal with."
But based on statements in the council today, the United States and Britain do not appear to have the enough support for their draft resolution. They need nine of the 15 council members to approve the measure, if there is no veto used.
Foreign ministers of two of the neutral nonpermanent members -- Chile and Mexico -- signaled they supported a diplomatic solution. Chile's foreign minister, Soledad Valenzuela, and Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Derbez both said they were disturbed by Iraq's level of cooperation but urged a multilateral approach to resolving the crisis.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw directly challenged the French foreign minister's call for peaceful disarmament. He said only the credible threat of force has brought the Iraqi regime to any level of cooperation.
Straw said Britain was circulating an amendment to the draft resolution, proposing a deadline by which Iraq must fully comply with UN inspections or face military action.
Blix said: "This is not to say that the operation of inspections is free from frictions, but at this juncture, we are able to perform professional, no-notice inspections all over Iraq and to increase aerial surveillance."
In particular, Blix said the ongoing destruction of Iraqi ballistic missiles -- 34 so far -- have amounted to significant progress. Though he added that no balistic missiles were destroyed today.
Blix told the UN Security Council that it would take months to judge Iraq's compliance with disarmament obligations.
El-Baradei said his monitors have found no signs that Iraq has resumed its atomic weapons program. He countered allegations by U.S. officials, saying his inspectors have found no indication that Iraq was attempting to import uranium or aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium.
El-Baradei told the council that monitors found no evidence to support reports that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger: "Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts, that these documents which form the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger are, in fact, not authentic."
Blix said his inspectors also could not validate U.S. charges relating to Iraqi biological and chemical weapons programs. He said no evidence has been found of mobile biological weapons laboratories nor have his monitors found underground facilities for production or storage of chemical and biological weapons.
But Blix also urged Iraqi authorities to provide more documentation of their weapons programs, saying this would be more useful than increasing the number of inspectors.
"Iraq, with a highly developed administrative system, should be able to provide more documentary evidence about its proscribed weapons programs. Only a few new such documents have come to light, so far, and been handed over since we began inspections. It was a disappointment that Iraq's declaration [regarding weapons of mass destruction] of the 7th of December did not bring new documentary evidence."