Powell offers intelligence data on Iraq
Thursday, February 6, 2003
and Dafna Linzer ~ The Associated Press
UNITED NATIONS -- Secretary of State Colin Powell, relying on a stream of U.S. intelligence, urged the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to move against Saddam Hussein because Iraq has failed to disarm, harbors terrorists and hides behind a "web of lies."
His extraordinary presentation in the packed council chamber included satellite photographs, intercepted conversations between senior Iraqi officers and statements from informants that could make or break support for going to war with Iraq.
Russia, France, China and other council members skeptical of the need for a military confrontation said they would review the evidence and demand answers from Baghdad. Most said weapons inspections should continue, Iraq must immediately cooperate and diplomatic efforts should be sought to avert war.
France and Germany went further, calling for strengthening the inspections regime that was already toughened up in November under a Security Council resolution crafted by Washington and adopted by an unanimous council.
Three months after Iraq pledged that it would disarm, Powell presented his evidence to a high-level audience of foreign ministers and ambassadors in an appearance that was televised live to an anxious world.
"The gravity of this moment is matched by the gravity of the threat that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction pose to the world," Powell said. "This body places itself in danger of irrelevance if it allows Iraq to continue to defy its will."
Powell's presentation was part of a diplomatic offensive that intensified with President Bush's State of the Union address last week. The administration's next move is to determine whether council members are willing to support a new U.N. resolution specifically authorizing force against Iraq.
A senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the next 24 to 36 hours will be critical as Powell gauges reaction. The key is France, one administration official said. If President Jacques Chirac insists on vetoing such a resolution, Bush won't seek one.
For many at the United Nations, a visit to Baghdad this weekend by the chief weapons inspectors, followed by their next reports to the council on Feb. 14, will be critical for any decision on war.
Britain, America's closest ally, prefers a second resolution but would join forces with the United States against Saddam without one. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Powell made a "most powerful" case Wednesday. Saddam is "gambling that we will lose our nerve rather than enforce our will," Straw said.
In an 80-minute presentation, Powell claimed that Saddam has had a relationship with al-Qaida dating back to the mid-1990s and that Osama bin Laden has an operative in Iraq who sits atop a "sinister nexus" of terror. He didn't provide any evidence of the relationship, however.
Saddam, in an interview broadcast Tuesday in London, forcefully denied that his government has weapons of mass destruction or a relationship with al-Qaida.
In his presentation, Powell asserted that Iraq bulldozed land around a chemical complex in 2002 in order "to conceal chemical weapons evidence" and has hidden mobile biological weapons labs on at least 18 flatbed trucks.
Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector said Tuesday that he hadn't found any evidence of mobile labs.
Powell played audio tapes of what he described as intercepted phone conversations between Iraqi military officers. One was a purported discussion about hiding vehicles from weapons inspectors. Another dealt with removing a reference to nerve agents from written instructions.
U.S. officials said any evidence revealed Wednesday which could have helped inspectors had already been turned over to them.
Blix and his colleague, Mohamed ElBaradei, told council members at a private lunch after the presentation they would study the details of Powell's report.
Powell, with CIA Director George J. Tenet at his side, told the council Iraq is working on developing missiles with a range of about 620 miles or more, putting Russia and other nations within Iraq's reach. Under Security Council resolutions, Iraq is banned from having missiles with a range greater than 93 miles.
The secretary of state cited informants as saying that Iraqis are dispersing rockets armed with biological weapons in western Iraq.
He presented declassified satellite pictures that he said showed 15 munitions bunkers. Powell said four of them had active chemical munitions inside.
Satellites observed cleanup activities at nearly 30 suspected weapons sites in the days before inspectors arrived, he said.
Powell presented his case in a rapid-fire delivery, moving from tape recordings to photos and other evidence without pause.
Some of the evidence, he said, was based on U.S. and foreign intelligence sources and he said the information shows Iraq is deliberately misleading inspectors about its weapons programs.
"I believe this conclusion is irrefutable and undeniable," he said.
Most U.S. allies, however, want more time for U.N. weapons inspectors to do their work.
"As long as there is still the slightest hope for political settlement, we should exert our utmost effort to achieve that," Tang Jiaxuan, China's foreign minister, said after Powell's presentation.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov agreed, saying inspections "must be continued."
Dominique de Villepin of France suggested tripling the number of inspectors and placing a full-time monitor in Baghdad to oversee the process. But a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, questioned the usefulness of the French proposal.