Powell Tells U.N. It Cannot Turn Its Back On Threat Posed By Iraq

(UNITED NATIONS, March 7th, 2003, 2 p.m.) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell, in an uphill struggle for U.N. support, said Friday the world body "must not walk away" from supporting force to disarm Iraq, despite some progress achieved through the pressure of international inspections.

President Saddam Hussein's intent "has not changed," Powell told the Security Council, as he sought adoption of a new resolution to back force as a last option. "Iraq is once again moving down the path to weapons of mass destruction," he said.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, sitting to Powell's right, nodded affirmatively at Powell's refusal to accept the notion that Iraq had turned a corner toward cooperation with the United Nations. Other ministers attending the council session sat by impassively.

Only Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio and Straw endorsed the U.S. assessment. She called Saddam a tyrant who has provoked war and said the U.N.'s credibility would be jeopardized if it stood impotently aside. Straw said that Iraq "has dragged its feet" on cooperation.

Iraq's performance on disarmament is "still a catalogue of noncooperation," Powell said. With a long record of deceit, he asked, "How can we rely on assurances?"

Powell spoke a few minutes after U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said they'd been told by Iraqi authorities that they would have growing access to suspect sites.

Powell said that Iraq's limited cooperation was offered in a "grudging manner" and without an unqualified commitment to disarm completely.

"Now is the time for the council to tell Saddam that the clock has not been stopped by his stratagems and his machinations," the secretary said.

And yet, a succession of foreign ministers took a completely different approach, saying war would only ignite a new wave of violence. They called for maintaining pressure on Iraq with a reinvigorated inspection system.

Powell came to the U.N. in what President Bush called "the last phase of diplomacy," seeking to convince skeptical governments that only force, not more inspections, will disarm Iraq and neutralize Saddam.

But in true diplomatic fashion, Powell also was considering a compromise in the tough U.N. resolution authorizing force proposed by the United States and two allies, Britain and Spain, in order to gain Security Council approval.

It is likely to give Iraq a week to 10 days after adoption of the resolution to agree to rid itself of illegal weapons, a U.S. official said, as Britain prepared to present the resolution to the council.

Clearly aware of the sentiment on the council against war, Powell behind the scenes conferred with Straw, Palacio and other ministers, attempting to temper the resolution slightly to try to attract support.

He also set up meetings later Friday with several of his counterparts and included on his schedule a lunch with Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary-general who has given cautious blessing to the inspection system as an effective way to disarm Iraq.

Powell said Iraq has retained thousands of biological and chemical weapons, has 10,000 delivery systems to target other countries. And even while agreeing to destroy some missiles, there is evidence that it is intends to produce others, he said.

In advance of the inspectors' appearance at the U.N., the Bush administration took the view that their report merely confirmed that Iraq has no intention of disarming.

"Token gestures are not acceptable," Bush told a nationwide TV audience at a news conference Thursday night. He said he had not decided whether to invade Iraq but that it was only a matter of days before a Security Council vote on the new resolution authorizing force.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said Friday, "We'll be in a situation of war within a couple of weeks. My estimation. That's not official and certainly not the White House's position."

Sheik Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor Al Thani, Qatar's foreign minister, met with Vice President Dick Cheney and planned to sit down later in the day with President Bush and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

"We hope that this problem can be resolved peacefully and through the Security Council," he told reporters after the Cheney meeting.

Democrats weighed in, with Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle saying in Washington that the administration had brought on an "extraordinary disintegration" of support from other nations by rushing toward war.

And House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said the United States should hold off military action to allow more time for diplomacy, weapons inspections and "the leverage provided by the threat" of war.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)