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Powell Presents Evidence Against Iraq Today

Powell Presents Evidence Against Iraq Today

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NEW YORK (AP) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell will be joined by top CIA officials today as he presents the U.N. Security Council with evidence culled from classified material to try to convince wavering allies and other nations that Iraq has defied calls to disarm.

The evidence is expected to include transcripts and possibly recordings of intercepted conversations of Iraqi officials discussing the country's weapons programs. There probably also will be images taken by satellites of suspected biological weapons labs, officials said.

Powell's report also is expected to indicate that Iraqi officials had advance knowledge where U.N. weapons inspectors were going to look, in line with a recent report from the British government that said Iraqi intelligence had bugged inspectors' telephones and hotel and conference rooms.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix warned Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on Tuesday that it's "five minutes to midnight." President Bush and his top national security officials have said repeatedly that Iraq will be forcibly disarmed if it does not comply with U.N. resolutions demanding that it reveal and give up weapons of mass destruction.

CIA Director George J. Tenet and his chief deputy, John McLaughlin, are expected to accompany Powell. In selecting evidence, Powell and intelligence specialists are said to be taking care not to reveal more about their operations than they could safely show Iraq.

The intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs is considered solid; the information on Baghdad's contacts with al-Qaida is less so but still suspicious, officials said. The information centers on the movements of a lieutenant of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab Zarqawi, who traveled to Baghdad last summer for medical treatment and is now believed to be working with a Kurdish Islamic extremist group in northern Iraq, officials said.

Powell's presentation also will refer to an Iraqi defector who has told U.S. intelligence about mobile chemical labs, a senior administration official said.

German Ambassador Gunter Pleuger, whose government currently leads the Security Council, said the foreign ministers at Powell's briefing might not be able to respond immediately to highly technical material.

Pleuger said Powell's audiovisual presentation "might take more or less roughly an hour." It will be followed by two hours for comments from the other 14 members and Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri, who was invited to speak even though Iraq is not a council member.

Arriving in New York on Tuesday, Powell met first with Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, whose government prefers a diplomatic approach to Iraq. They discussed Iraq and North Korea, which has moved to resume nuclear weapons development, as well as Taiwan and human rights, a U.S. official said.

China regularly complains about U.S. weapons delivery to Taiwan, which it views as a renegade province that must be reabsorbed. The United States, meanwhile, habitually criticizes the way China deals with dissent and minority religions.

Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, are due to visit Baghdad for two days of meetings next weekend. Among their demands is access to Iraqi scientists and other officials without government "minders" auditing the interviews.

Blix said Tuesday that Iraq must be forthcoming about its weapons during the visit. "I don't think that the end is there, that a date has been set for an armed action, but I think that we're moving closer and closer to it," Blix said.

In Iraq, meanwhile, U.N. arms investigators found another empty chemical warhead, the 17th discovered since mid-January. The Iraqis have said the empty munitions found earlier were overlooked leftovers from the 1980s.

Saddam, in an interview broadcast Tuesday, denied his government has a relationship with al-Qaida or has weapons of mass destruction. He said it would be impossible to hide such arms.

A retired British lawmaker, Tony Benn, conducted the interview Sunday in Baghdad for a yet-to-be-launched Arabic TV station with administrative offices in London.

"If we had a relationship with al-Qaida, and we believed in that relationship, we wouldn't be ashamed to admit it," the Iraqi leader said.

Before and after Powell's speech Wednesday to the Security Council, he intends to meet with foreign ministers and ambassadors from most of the other members.

Powell hopes his evidence will persuade the council that Iraq has caches of chemical and biological weapons, nascent nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs and ties to terror groups.

Even Tuesday, senior intelligence and security officials were still deciding what information Powell would provide.

He is expected to accuse Iraq of harassing scientists and others who have useful information and to criticize Iraq for denying the inspectors permission for flights by U-2 reconnaissance planes.

The emphasis on links to terror groups is designed to draw support from France, which views al-Qaida as more dangerous than Iraq.

But British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has supported the Bush administration on using force as a last resort to disarm Iraq, failed again Tuesday to persuade a reluctant France to join a U.S.-led coalition.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said this was "part of the consultative process."

President Jacques Chirac, during talks with Blair in France, said he remains adamantly opposed to a war without giving U.N. inspectors more time to search for outlawed weapons.

Also on Tuesday, Bush talked by telephone with Russian President Vladimir Putin for about 15 minutes. Both France and Russia have veto power in the Security Council.

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

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