The U.S. case for military action against Iraq will take another dramatic turn today when U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell presents evidence to the UN Security Council. Powell is expected to share intelligence information that shows that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction and deceiving weapons inspectors. Chief UN inspector Hans Blix, meanwhile, says time is running short for Iraq to show that it is committed to cooperating on "substantial" issues with monitors.
United Nations, 5 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is set to share intelligence information today aimed at convincing members of the United Nations Security Council that Iraq continues to develop biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons.
Powell's report, to be supported by an audiovisual presentation, is expected to highlight alleged Iraqi attempts to hide weapons of mass destruction and deceive weapons inspectors. If council members find the evidence compelling, they could meet again to consider whether to authorize military force, an option the United States says is becoming unavoidable.
Today's meeting could provide signals about whether the council is prepared to consider force. Most states will be represented by foreign ministers who are expected to provide a mix of prepared remarks and brief responses to the Powell report.
Iraqi UN Ambassador Muhammad al-Duri will speak at the end of today's session. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, in an interview broadcast yesterday, denied that his country has weapons of mass destruction and dismissed claims of links to the Al-Qaeda terrorist group.
To date, a majority of council members have said they favor giving more time to inspectors. They say the UN inspection mission is just up to full strength and needs to be given a chance to work.
French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac yesterday again repeated this sentiment after a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had tried to convince him of the need for quick military action. "I believe we should wait. We have adopted a strategy, and that is inspections. We should trust the inspectors. This is my position, and I believe it is, in fact, everybody else's position, and we should let them have all the time they need," Chirac said.
Germany, which chairs the council this month, refuses to support a military solution to the Iraq crisis. Germany's UN ambassador, Gunter Pleuger, told a news conference yesterday that November's UN Resolution 1441, which reinvigorated the inspections, provides a last chance to solve the problem in a peaceful way. "I think there's unanimity in the council that we want to disarm Iraq, that we want to take away weapons of mass destruction and also programs to acquire or to build such weapons. We feel that the best way of doing this is by inspections in a peaceful way," Pleuger said.
But chief UN inspector Hans Blix, noting the U.S. impatience with Iraqi compliance, says time is running short for Baghdad. Blix harshly assessed Iraq's cooperation with inspectors in his own report to the council last week.
Blix is to travel to Baghdad this weekend with the head of International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammad el-Baradei, to try to resolve the issues they underlined last week. He told reporters at UN headquarters yesterday that they have made it clear to Iraqi officials that they are looking for a different attitude. "The principal item, we think, is how can Iraq assure us and the Security Council that it will actively seek and present any items or programs which are proscribed, or else if they are not there, to seek and present credible evidence for their absence," Blix said.
Blix expressed disappointment at Iraq's response so far to his messages, including his assertion that Iraq's 10,000-page weapons declaration is incomplete and that Baghdad is not making arms experts available for interviews. The main question marks concern reports by the previous UN inspection mission of stockpiles of materials that could be used for chemical and biological weapons.
Blix said he hopes Iraqi officials will provide serious answers to these questions during the upcoming meeting.
He said that despite the buildup of U.S.-led forces in the Persian Gulf area, time still remains for Iraq to demonstrate good faith. "I don't think the decision is final. I don't think the end is there, and a date has been set for armed action. I don't think so. Not yet. But I think that we're moving closer and closer to it, and therefore it seems to me the Iraqi leadership must be well aware of that," Blix said.
Blix and el-Baradei are scheduled to report to the Security Council on 14 February on the progress of inspections and Iraq's cooperation. German Ambassador Pleuger said the report will likely play a crucial role in the council's decision on the next steps in Iraq. "How things will develop further I think will depend -- as I said before very much on the upcoming visit of el-Baradei and Blix in Baghdad, because they will then have to make an assessment [about whether] they get the necessary cooperation to continue the inspections with a view of completing them successfully," Pleuger said.
Before and after today's council session, Powell will hold bilateral meetings with foreign ministers in New York. He will be accompanied at the council meeting by the director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, George Tenet.
Powell has said he will not provide "smoking gun" evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction but a strong case that Baghdad continues to defy UN disarmament demands.