U.N. weapons inspectors' update on Iraq does not deter the United States as it seeks support for war.
Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 8, 2003
UNITED NATIONS -- As bitter divisions on the Security Council over how to confront Saddam Hussein continued to harden, U.N. weapons inspectors Friday reported on their progress in Iraq in accounts that gave fodder to all sides.
The United States, joined by key allies Britain and Spain, proposed delivering an ultimatum to Hussein: Give up banned weapons by March 17 or face war. But a powerful bloc of nations stood firm Friday against any new resolution that would authorize military action.
Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters that the council would vote next week on the latest proposal, an amended U.S.-British-Spanish resolution that paves the way for war. Council diplomats said Tuesday was likely.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said the proposed March 17 deadline sought from the U.N. Security Council would not necessarily serve as the U.S. deadline for launching military action.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin rejected the idea of a deadline and came with his own plan: a summit at the U.N. Security Council with heads of state deciding the course of war and peace. But Powell dismissed the idea, saying he saw no need for one when key powers have been expressing their views "openly and candidly."
The U.N. chief inspector for chemical and biological weapons, Hans Blix, said Iraq's cooperation has been "proactive" and its destruction of a hotly disputed missile system offered a "substantial measure" of disarmament.
"We are not watching the destruction of toothpicks," he said. "Lethal weapons are being destroyed."
Blix added, however, that Iraq is still not free of weapons of mass destruction. In a reference to some 300,000 U.S. troops that are poised for an attack against Iraq, he said that Baghdad's heightened cooperation may have resulted from "outside pressure." Blix also said Iraq's cooperation has not been immediate and that "it will not take years, nor weeks, but months," for his inspections to be completed.
Powell dismissed Baghdad's disarmament efforts as nothing more than a catalog of noncooperation.
"If Iraq genuinely wanted to disarm, we would not have to be worrying about setting up means of looking for mobile biological units or any units of that kind; they would be presented to us," Powell said. "We would not need an extensive program to search for and look for underground facilities that we know exist. The very fact that we must make these requests seems to me to show that Iraq is still not cooperating."
Facing strong opposition to war, the United States and Britain hoped the offer of a deadline would win over undecided nations on the council. But there were no takers.
Angola and Chile, for example, indicated afterward that they might abstain. Pakistan also appeared to be leaning away from the U.S. position.
For weeks, Washington's plan has been to muster the nine votes necessary for the resolution's passage and then persuade permanent members France, Russia and China to abstain rather than wield their vetoes.
But France and Russia warned Friday that they will do everything possible to prevent the resolution's adoption, and only Bulgaria joined the resolution's sponsors in speaking up for the idea of a deadline.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer called the amended resolution an ultimatum that would lead "in a very short period to military action," because the council would then have to vote by March 17 to stop a war. Council members said the United States would almost certainly veto any resolution to stop a war.
"We cannot accept an ultimatum as long as inspectors are reporting cooperation," de Villepin told the council.
"France will not allow a resolution to pass that authorizes the automatic use of force," he said.
Russia's deputy foreign minister, Yuri Fedotov, told the BBC: "Russia is determined to do everything to not let pass this resolution."
President Bush, Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice planned to lobby allies by telephone until the vote. Bush spoke by phone with the Chilean President Ricardo Lagos.
If the resolution is defeated, Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have said they would be prepared to go to war anyway with a coalition of willing nations. But both know that U.N. support would give the war international legitimacy and guarantee that members of the organization share the costs of rebuilding Iraq.
Powell's second visit to the United Nations in a month came as part of what Bush characterized as "the last phase of diplomacy" during a White House news conference Thursday. Powell took pointed swipes at the efficacy of some of the weapons inspectors efforts and said that the credibility of the Security Council was in play.
De Villepin, in a now familiar counterpoint to Powell's hawkish stance, said that weapons inspections in Iraq have demonstrated "substantial progress" and that his country will oppose any resolution authorizing the use of force against Baghdad. He also said that France would oppose any deadline imposed on Iraq to comply with inspections, saying that such a deadline would be "a pretext for war."
"Why should we now engage in war with Iraq?" de Villepin asked. "Why choose division when our unity and our resolve are leading Iraq to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction?"
"War is always an acknowledgment of failure," de Villepin added.
Nonetheless, the odds against securing support from the United Nations appeared to be of little concern to the White House. Bush and Blair have said that they are prepared to go to war against Iraq without the U.N.'s backing and the diplomatic legitimacy that support would confer.
Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw both relied heavily in their presentations on a 167-page report Blix has prepared that lists the outstanding disarmament issues facing Iraq. Straw, who nodded repeatedly in agreement with Powell during the American diplomat's speech, said the report is a "chilling read" that demonstrates Iraq is not cooperating.
Straw described the 167-page report as "a shocking indictment of the record of Saddam Hussein's deception and deceit, but above all, of the danger which he poses to the region and to the world."
Powell called the report a "damning record of 12 years of lies" by Iraq.
In a quiet, almost bland tone of voice, Blix told the Security Council that his team had been able to perform professional, no-notice inspections throughout Iraq and that air reconnaissance efforts had been fruitful. He said Iraq had provided names of key personnel involved in earlier weapons destruction programs, but he had not seen a comparable list of Iraq's past and current stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. He said more interviews with Iraqi scientists had occurred, but that they rarely proceeded unimpeded or independently and would be more useful if they took place outside of Iraq.
Blix's counterpart, Mohamed ElBaradei, who heads the U.N. nuclear weapons inspection team, said that Iraq's industrial capacity had withered so completely that it was unable to produce nuclear weapons. He said that intelligence reports about uranium transfers between Iraq and Niger were inaccurate and, in a thinly veiled criticism of intelligence information cited by Powell in his visit to the United Nations on Feb. 5, said that reports of resumed nuclear activities at sites within Iraq were also inaccurate.
ElBaradei dismissed American intelligence reports that claimed that suspect aluminum tubes were part of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq.
"Extensive field investigation and document analysis have failed to uncover any evidence that Iraq intended to use these 81mm tubes for any project other than the reverse engineering of rockets," he said.
Powell questioned the credibility of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which ElBaradei oversees.
"As we all know, in 1991 the IAEA was just days away from determining that Iraq did not have a nuclear program," Powell said. "We soon found out otherwise. IAEA is now reaching a similar conclusion, but we have to be very cautious."
-- Information from the Associated Press, New York Times and Hearst Newspapers was used in this report.