Estimated read time: 6-7 minutes
This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- France, China and Russia demanded more time for weapons inspections Friday after U.N. weapons inspectors reported the hunt for banned Iraqi arms had thus far failed to find weapons of mass destruction.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, meeting stiff resistance to U.S. and British calls for possible military action against Iraq, warned the world not to be taken in by "tricks that are being played on us."
In his presentation to the sharply divided council, chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix cited improved cooperation on the part of Saddam Hussein's government. But he also said inspectors found missiles with a range exceeding the permitted limits and chastised Iraq for not giving a full accounting of chemical and biological weapons programs.
Blix's counterpart, nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei, 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.
Case for Action Meets Strong Opposition
The reports, far more measured than the harsh assessments the inspectors issued two weeks ago to the council, were strong fodder for Russia, France and China. The three veto-holding council members responded with calls for continued inspections and resisted any move toward war.
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 to ask for order inside the chamber. Powell's comments 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."
Echoing Powell's remarks, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw urged all 15 members to "hold our nerve in the face of this tyrant," Saddam.
The United States is seeking U.N. backing for military action against Iraq for failing to disarm. The United States and Britain say they are willing to go to war against Iraq without U.N. backing, but would prefer to have it.
But the case for military action met strong opposition from other council members.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov both told The Associated Press during a break in the meeting that they would not support a resolution authorizing war.
De Villepin told the council that U.N. inspections, which resumed in November after a four-year break, "are producing results" and should continue.
Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan echoed those remarks. "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," he said.
Evidence in Question
With Powell listening from his seat across a horseshoe-shaped table, 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.
Hours before the U.N. presentations, Saddam decreed a ban on all weapons of mass destruction from Iraq, a longtime U.N. demand. The White House scoffed at the announcement.
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 findings by a panel of experts that one of Iraq's new missile systems exceeds the range limit set by Security Council resolutions.
"The experts concluded that, based on the data provided by Iraq, the two declared variants of the Al Samoud 2 missile were capable of exceeding 150 kilometers (93 miles) in range. This missile system is therefore proscribed for Iraq," Blix said.
Blix said additional 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."
Private Interviews Granted
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 there were 250 U.N. personnel now in Iraq, including about 115 inspectors. He said there had been more than 400 inspections at 300 sites since the process began in November.
In his report, 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.
ElBaradei said the matter of high-strength aluminum tubes which Iraq tried to import had not been closed. He has said previously that the IAEA believes Iraq intended to use the tubing for conventional rockets.
On Friday he said Iraq provided new documentation on the tubes, a reported attempt to import uranium, the procurement of magnets and magnet production capabilities and the use of the explosive HMX.
"The IAEA has verified that Iraq had indeed been manufacturing such rockets. However, we are still exploring whether the tubes were intended rather for the manufacture of centrifuges for uranium enrichment," he said.
The United States and Britain had been waiting to hear from the inspectors before deciding when to present a draft resolution that would either authorize military action or find Iraq in "material breach" of its obligations -- a term that Washington and London believe would be enough to justify an attack, according to diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity.
France could also decide to submit its proposal to triple the number of inspectors, diplomats said.
After the 1991 Gulf War, inspectors oversaw the destruction of the bulk of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons and dismantled the country's program to develop nuclear weapons.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)