The detailed report by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on alleged Iraqi disarmament violations has prompted another round of concerned statements by UN Security Council members. But key council members are still stressing the need for more inspections before resorting to military option. This weekend's trip to Baghdad by the two top UN inspectors is increasingly seen as Iraq's final chance to demonstrate that it will fully comply with weapons monitors.
United Nations, 6 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. government's release of intelligence information on Iraq's illicit weapons programs has deepened the unease among United Nations Security Council members over Iraq's commitment to disarm. But the report delivered yesterday by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell brought no immediate shift in positions on military force. Most council members said they favor giving more time -- and perhaps more powers -- to inspectors, who have been on the ground in Iraq for about two months.
There was a clear sense among top council diplomats, though, that Iraq's opportunity for avoiding U.S.-led military action is fading.
Powell said he came to the council in part to reinforce the tough assessment on Iraqi compliance delivered last week by chief UN inspector Hans Blix. During his 75-minute address, Powell shared declassified information from U.S. intelligence sources indicating Iraqi activity in each of the major banned weapon areas: nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, as well as ballistic missiles.
He played audio of intercepted transmissions between Iraqi officials to support U.S. charges that Iraq is waging a campaign to prevent any meaningful inspection work.
The Iraqi programs and the deceit, Powell said, provide what he called "undeniable proof" that Iraq is in violation of Security Council Resolution 1441. "Iraq still remains in material breach. Indeed, by its failure to seize on its one last opportunity to come clean and disarm, Iraq has put itself in deeper material breach and closer to the day when it will face serious consequences for its continuing defiance of this council," Powell said.
The previous UN weapons-inspection mission, which ended in late 1998, compiled a list of unfinished issues that focused particularly on biological- and chemical-weapons stocks. These included large quantities of materials such as anthrax and VX gas.
Powell said that in addition to this, intelligence data show new efforts by Iraq to develop mobile biological-weapons labs and the infiltration of its civilian chemical industry with weapons facilities.
The U.S. secretary of state also said Iraq's pattern of clandestine trade in recent years shows it is still in pursuit of a nuclear-weapons program. The director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammad el-Baradei, told the council last week that no prohibited nuclear activities have been detected so far in Iraq.
But Powell detailed what he said are Iraqi efforts to find materials to enrich uranium: "[Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein already possesses two out of the three key components needed to build a nuclear bomb. He has a cadre of nuclear scientists with the expertise, and he has the bomb design. Since 1998, his efforts to reconstitute his nuclear program have been focused on acquiring the third and last component: sufficient fissile material to produce a nuclear explosion."
Three of the veto-wielding members of the Security Council -- France, Russia, and China -- expressed support for continuing efforts to find a political solution to the crisis. France's foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, suggested tripling the number of inspectors and expanding UN field offices to make sure all peaceful options are explored in disarming Iraq.
De Villepin told reporters after Powell's address that there is no "absolute proof" of Iraqi violations, showing the need for more inspections. "There [are] indications, informations, suspicion, and we should all try to know more about it. And that's why we need the inspections to go ahead and maintain our objective, which is the disarmament of Iraq," de Villepin said.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the new information provided by the United States requires serious consideration by experts from all council states. He said inspections must continue but that Iraq is obliged to respond to the points raised by Powell. "Iraq itself, first and foremost, should be interested in clarifying once and for all the issue of its weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. This is the only way toward a political settlement, including the lifting of sanctions against Iraq," Ivanov said.
Iraqi officials at the United Nations and in Baghdad dismissed Powell's report as a series of lies aimed at justifying a U.S. attack against Iraq. An adviser to Saddam Hussein, Amir al-Saadi, told reporters in Baghdad that the United States had fabricated the evidence presented in the council, including the audio samples. "It is simply untrue and not genuine. The reason is simple: because we have nothing to hide; therefore, we don't talk about hiding anything or congratulating ourselves on hiding anything. This is simply manufactured evidence. It's not true at all," al-Saadi said.
Iraq has repeatedly said its weapons declaration made last December is complete and that it no longer possesses weapons of mass destruction. But top-level diplomats at UN headquarters yesterday repeatedly called on the Iraqi leadership to provide more credible proof that they have disarmed.
Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, whose country currently holds the European Union Presidency, told reporters there is still a window of opportunity for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Papandreou recently completed a tour of Middle Eastern states and said some Arab leaders are considering sending envoys to urge Hussein to comply with inspections.
The Greek foreign minister joined other top diplomats in saying that the 14 February briefing by Blix and el-Baradei is looming as a crucial date for action on Iraq. "I think we all feel that there's a countdown here. When that arm is going [to] tick to zero, I don't know exactly. Obviously, [Blix's] report is going to be very crucial, and that's why I think the [stronger] this message can be now to Saddam Hussein that this is a last chance, the better," Papandreou said.
Blix and el-Baradei travel to Baghdad this weekend for talks with Iraqi officials that are intended to resolve inspection issues they raised before the Security Council last week.
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy joined the small number of council members, including Britain and Spain, that spoke in strong terms about Iraqi noncompliance. He told the council that if inspectors report that Iraq has not changed its attitude toward inspections, the council will have to take "appropriate action."
Passy told reporters outside the Security Council that he believes differences are narrowing among council members on the course of action to take on Iraq. "I was encouraged by what I heard today. I think we can find a solution unanimously supported or at least supported by the vast majority of the Security Council members," Passy said.
Council members had little immediate comment on Powell's accusation of a clear link between the Iraqi leadership and the Al-Qaeda terrorist network. Powell said U.S. intelligence has learned that Al-Qaeda operatives based in Baghdad now coordinate the movement of people, money, and supplies into and throughout Iraq for a network run by Abu Mussab Zarqawi. He said that Iraq is harboring Zarqawi and allowed his network to operate freely in the capital for more than eight months as it plotted terrorist acts in the Middle East, Europe, and Chechnya.