Major Powers Call for More Time for Inspections in Iraq After Inspectors Cite Iraqi Cooperation

Associated Press

Friday 14 February 2003

UNITED NATIONS—In a dramatic showdown with the United States, major powers in the Security Council rallied around calls for more weapons inspections in Iraq after top U.N. inspectors on Friday failed to give Washington the ammunition it needs to galvanize support for military action.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, meeting stiff resistance in the 15-member council, warned that the world should not be taken in by “tricks that are being played on us.” But only Spain and Britain spoke up for the U.S. position, and even Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jack Straw held out hope for a peaceful solution if Iraq dramatically accelerates its cooperation.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin’s impassioned speech seeking more time for inspections elicited rare applause from diplomats in the chamber. He told The Associated Press that France would not support a U.N. resolution authorizing war. China and Russia also pressed for more inspections.

The presentations by chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei were far more measured than the harsh assessments of Iraq they issued two weeks ago to the council.

The response to their reports makes it highly unlikely that the United States could muster the nine votes needed to authorize war now. Without nine votes, France, China and Russia would not be placed in the position of having to exercise their vetoes.

The United States and Britain say they are willing to go to war without U.N. backing but would prefer to have it. U.N.-backing is particularly important for the British government, which faces strong public opposition to a war.

Powell said he would return to Washington and consult with President Bush and others and make a decision “in the not too distant future” about a new resolution.

The differences between the council powers were so serious that a planned meeting of the five veto-holding members was canceled. De Villepin called for another ministerial-level council meeting on March 14, but Powell said council members decided not to make a decision now. U.S. officials noted that another report from Blix is due on March 1.

Powell sat impassively as speaker after speaker rejected the United States’ position that Iraq has run out of time to comply with a string of U.N. disarmament resolutions. The secretary quietly took notes during Blix’s presentation, listening from his seat across a horseshoe-shaped table.

When it was his turn to speak, Powell set aside his prepared remarks.

“More inspections—I am sorry—are not the answer,” he told the council.

Iraq’s U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri, the final speaker, stressed to council members his country’s commitment to full cooperation with inspectors and “the path of peace.”

“The French speech and the reaction was extraordinary. The atmosphere in the council today was one of peace and not war,” he told AP. “I have been worried but today I am a little calmer.”

Hours before the U.N. presentations, Saddam Hussein decreed a ban on all weapons of mass destruction from Iraq, a longtime U.N. demand. The White House scoffed at the announcement.

In his report, Blix cited improved cooperation by Saddam’s government and reported the hunt for banned arms had thus far failed to find weapons of mass destruction.

But he also said independent experts found that missiles which Iraq declared had a range exceeding the permitted limits and chastised Iraq for not giving a full accounting of chemical and biological weapons programs.

ElBaradei, the nuclear chief, told the council that inspectors found no evidence Iraq had resumed its nuclear weapons program and said inspectors could do their job without Iraq’s full cooperation. The inspections resumed in November after a four-year break.

The inspectors’ reports were strong fodder for council members opposed to war.

“We are willing to give peace a chance,” de Villepin said.

Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan agreed: “Only when we go along the line of political settlement can we truly live up to the trust and hope the international community places in the Security Council.”

Diplomats in the chamber and members of the public in the gallery greeted the remarks of the French and Russian foreign ministers with applause. The rare response caught the council by surprise and led German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who presided over the meeting, to ask for order, noting that applause is not allowed in the council.

Powell’s comments, by contrast, did not receive any applause.

“The threat of force must remain,” Powell told the council, adding that Iraq was strengthening its links with terror groups. “We cannot wait for one of these terrible weapons to turn up in our cities.”

Blix cast doubt on evidence Powell provided to the council last week claiming that Iraq had cleaned-up suspect sites before inspectors arrived.

Pointing to one case Powell highlighted using satellite photos of a munitions depot, Blix said: “The reported movement of munitions at the site could just as easily have been a routine activity” as one designed to hide banned materials before inspections.

“In no case have we seen convincing evidence that the Iraqi side knew in advance that the inspectors were coming,” Blix said.

Blix said it was significant that “many proscribed weapons and items are not accounted for.”

As an example, he cited a document that suggested some 1,000 tons of chemical agent were unaccounted for. Although he said he could not conclude the chemicals still existed, there was no proof that they had been destroyed.”

Blix also reported that missile experts found two versions of Al Samoud 2 missile were capable of exceeding 93 miles. “This missile system is therefore proscribed for Iraq,” he said, adding that more information was needed on a second missile, the Al Fatah, before deciding if it was in violation.

Blix said private interviews with three Iraqi scientists “proved informative,” but since the interviews conducted in Baghdad on Feb. 8-9 no more had been done in private—“on our terms.”

“I hope this will change,” he said. “We feel that interviews conducted without any third party present and without tape recording would provide the greatest credibility.”

Under intense pressure, Iraq agreed earlier this month to prod scientists to agree to private interviews. Previously, all scientists insisted on being accompanied by an Iraqi official or having their interview tape recorded.

Blix said U.N. personnel in Iraq now numbered 250, including about 115 inspectors. He said there had been more than 400 inspections at 300 sites since the process began in November.

ElBaradei said, as he did in the previous report, that inspectors found no evidence Iraq had restarted its nuclear weapons program.

In addition, he said, inspectors did not need Iraqi cooperation.

“The IAEA’s experience in nuclear verification shows that it is possible, particularly with an intrusive verification system, to assess the presence or absence of a nuclear weapons program in a state even without the full co-operation of the inspected state,” ElBaradei said.

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