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WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Colin Powell will share intercepted conversations among Iraqi officials about their weapons programs and photographs of suspected mobile biological weapons labs when he takes the U.S. intelligence dossier on Iraq to the United Nations this week, U.S. officials said Monday.
The Los Angeles Times quoted a U.S. official as saying the administration has a strong, convincing case that will move many people off the fence.
In his presentation on Wednesday, officials say, Powell will reveal transcripts of telephone conversations intercepted by the National Security Agency in which Iraqi government officials discuss the movement of material in advance of inspections and coach scientists on how to evade questions from the inspectors. In other intercepts, Iraqi officials can reportedly be heard bragging about how they have seemingly defeated the inspectors.
The administration Monday was still deciding which materials to declassify. Intercepts are one of the most sensitive forms of U.S. intelligence, in part because they reveal means of data collection that might tip off subjects and close off ways to gather vital information.
Powell said in an article Monday in the Wall Street Journal that the presentation would not contain a "smoking gun" that would prove the existence of prohibited weapons in Iraq. Rather, he said, the intelligence information will show "further evidence of Iraq's pattern of deception" and "evidence concerning the weapons programs" hidden by Saddam Hussein.
"We will, in sum, offer a straightforward, sober and compelling demonstration that Saddam is concealing the evidence of mass destruction, while preserving the weapons themselves," Powell wrote.
Powell is also likely to discuss Iraq's continuing purchases of equipment that could be used in weapons programs, in violation of U.N. resolutions. In the Wall Street Journal article, Powell said Baghdad had continued to acquire weapons-related equipment, "with proscribed imports arriving as recently as last month." Powell did not identify the type of imported material.
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said he expected the evidence to show details of a transfer of technology from other countries and the relocation of weapons systems within Iraq. "He can go into a level of detail with respect to the present maintenance of the stock that he hasn't gone into before," Hunter said.
"The most compelling evidence is out in the open -- their own statements and inventories," Hunter said of the Iraqis. Hunter's committee has held eight hearings in recent months on the Iraqi threat, including three behind closed doors.
Iraq's suspected mobile biological weapons laboratories have been a focus of U.S. intelligence efforts for years; locating them has become a top concern of Pentagon planners. But little is known publicly about their number or appearance.
Experts have said Iraq may have installed fermenters, spray dryers, centrifuges and other supporting gear with refrigeration capacity in the labs. The vehicles have distinguishing characteristics that would be visible in the sort of satellite photos Powell is expected to present, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity. He declined to elaborate.
U.S. intelligence agencies say the Iraqi regime uses mobile labs to hide biological weapons by disguising them as ordinary semitrailer trucks or even recreational vehicles.
Spotting the weapons labs with overhead surveillance might only be possible when the vehicles are seen near a suspected arms facility, according to one Pentagon intelligence official.
Iraq insists that it does not possess weapons of mass destruction and that it fully disclosed its weapons programs in a December inventory handed over to the Security Council.
Acknowledging differences with allies over how long to allow inspections to continue, Powell also pledged "full and open consultation" to determine the next steps on Iraq. America's top diplomat said a peaceful outcome was still possible. But he warned: "We will not shrink from war if that is the only way to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction."
Powell is scheduled to meet today with ambassadors and foreign ministers from many of the 15 Security Council members ahead of the Wednesday meeting. Foreign ministers from 11 of the 14 other countries on the Security Council -- Britain, China, Russia, France, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Pakistan, Chile, Bulgaria and Cameroon -- are expected to attend the meeting.
"Anybody with an open mind and open ears and open eyes will see that the Iraqis are failing to comply with the U.N. resolution," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said of Powell's presentation.
Some in Congress are not so sure. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, who has been briefed on the material, said Monday it was insufficient to justify war. "At this point, I don't think it is compelling," he said.
Among the five veto-wielding nations on the Security Council, Russia said Monday that it still hoped for a political solution but suggested that force could be used as a last resort. After talks with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Russian President Vladimir Putin said a "meaningful part" of the responsibility for making U.N. inspections work lies with Iraq. Putin also asked U.N. weapons inspectors to explain what they need to clarify the status of Iraq's disarmament efforts.
And in a reflection of growing frustration with Iraq, the top U.N. nuclear inspector warned that the international community is losing its patience.
"There is an agreement that Iraq needs to cooperate more, that the international community is getting impatient and that inspectors should be able to provide positive reports soon," Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomy Energy Agency said in Vienna.
KUWAIT CLOSES SCHOOLS: Fearing backlash from Muslim extremists if the United States attacks Iraq, the two largest American schools in Kuwait have decided to shut their doors until late March. Administrators at the American School of Kuwait and the American International School said Monday they would close from Monday until at least March 22. The schools serve children of the 8,000 Americans who live in the Persian Gulf nation.
THIRD CARRIER IN RANGE: A third U.S. aircraft carrier has moved into striking range of Iraq, and a fourth will head there soon, defense officials said Monday. The USS Abraham Lincoln re-entered the Arabian Sea over the weekend, joining the USS Constellation and the USS Harry S. Truman in the region and bringing the number of American forces there close to 100,000. The USS Theodore Roosevelt is wrapping up training off the U.S. East Coast and is likely to head toward the region in several days.
TURKEY SET TO ACT: Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said Monday that he would ask Parliament this week to consider measures that could clear the way for American combat troops to use the country as a base for an invasion of Iraq.