The leading members of the UN Security Council appear to be headed toward another clash of views on Iraq's disarmament progress at tomorrow's briefing by UN inspectors. France, Russia, and Germany have signed a declaration vowing to stop any resolution authorizing war. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has again asserted Washington's right to lead a coalition of forces to disarm Iraq without council backing, if necessary. Chief inspector Hans Blix, meanwhile, says Iraq has improved its cooperation.
United Nations, 6 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Ahead of a key meeting of the UN Security Council tomorrow, a new round of statements from Paris and Washington has shown a hardening of positions on the options for disarming Iraq.
The foreign ministers of France, Russia, and Germany yesterday issued a declaration reaffirming their commitment to continued inspections in Iraq.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov indicated they could use their veto power to block any resolution authorizing force.
De Villepin reiterated the need for inspections to follow an accelerated timetable but rejected Security Council action that could give an automatic trigger for military action.
"We believe it is up to the inspectors and we will, in fact, demand that it should be up to them to establish the fastest and the best schedule for them, and we will, of course, support that schedule on two conditions -- that there is no ultimatum, because it was not provided for by Resolution 1441, and that no call is made for the automatic use of force."
Hours later in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell pressed the U.S. case that Iraq is continuing a pattern of deception and offers only token cooperation. The UN inspections are not working as envisioned by Resolution 1441, Powell said in a speech in Washington.
"Nothing we have seen since the passage of 1441 indicates that Saddam Hussein has taken the strategic and political decision to disarm. Moreover, nothing indicates that the Iraqi regime has decided to actively, unconditionally and immediately cooperate with the inspectors."
The United States, Britain and Spain have sponsored a draft resolution that implies the authorization of force, stating Iraq has missed its opportunity to peacefully disarm. The measure is expected to be put to a vote by the council next week. At least nine countries of the 15 countries on the council must vote yes to adopt the resolution, as long as no veto is used.
Powell, de Villepin, and Ivanov will be among the council representatives attending tomorrow's briefing by chief UN inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed El-Baradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Council members will confer in a private session following the open briefing.
Blix signaled yesterday that his report will give Iraq new credit for complying with inspectors. He told reporters in New York that Iraq has now shown it is cooperating on substantial disarmament issues, notably the destruction of al-Samoud missiles.
But Blix declined to say whether Iraq was cooperating fully as required under the council's resolution. And he said that while he favors more time for inspections, he is not ready to suggest his own time frame for Iraq to answer the unresolved disarmament questions raised by inspectors.
"They have been very active, I would say, and even pro-active in the last month or so, but in the past, of course, their track record was not so good and therefore I would not want to suggest I am confident that [full Iraqi disarmament] would happen."
Blix said that in addition to the destruction of the missiles, Baghdad has been helpful in providing new documents and names of scientists involved in the destruction of weapons of mass destruction in 1991.
Blix said Iraq has also taken the initiative and excavated a site where they buried more than 100 bombs filled with biological agents in 1991. Baghdad has also shown greater cooperation on UN interviews with scientists, he said, and seven Iraqi specialists have now been interviewed privately.
But Powell, in his speech, dismissed the Iraqi actions, particularly the destruction of the missiles. He said recent intelligence information shows that Iraq is hiding machinery to make more missiles and planned to resume production soon.
Powell stressed that Resolution 1441 was aimed at encouraging Iraqi disarmament, not to provide foolproof inspections. "Unfortunately, the inspection effort isn't working. Why? Because it was never intended to work under these kinds of hostile circumstances. It was intended to help the Iraqis comply. [The inspectors] were not intended to be a detective that ran around seeking out things in the absence of genuine Iraqi cooperation."
But Blix challenged the U.S. interpretation of Resolution 1441, which passed unanimously in November.
"I don't agree with those who say it's about disarmament and not about inspection. It was indeed about inspection. That was why we welcomed it. It was talked about as an enhancement of the inspection regime. It strengthened our hands enormously."
Blix said he did not support continuing inspections "forever," but that he would not be giving the council a report that could be used politically by either of the two main factions in the debate over Iraq. The smaller states on the council that have not formally decided on whether to support the draft resolution say the Blix report will play a big role in their considerations.