Powell - U.N. must not shirk responsibility to disarm Iraq
UNITED NATIONS -- Secretary of State Colin Powell, faced with stiff resistance and calls to go slow, bluntly told other nations on Monday that the United Nations "must not shrink" from its responsibility to disarm Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
"We cannot be shocked into impotence because we're afraid of the difficult choices ahead of us," Powell told members of the U.N. Security Council.
Directly responding to qualms registered by several foreign ministers in two days of talks, and with only Britain explicitly standing alongside the United States, Powell spoke of war as a real option.
Germany's foreign minister took a strong stand against military action, saying it might have "negative repercussions" for the international fight against terrorism. His French counterpart called war "a dead end."
Powell, speaking at a U.N. conference on terrorism and at a news conference, urged reluctant nations to focus on Baghdad's failure to disarm and to prepare to weigh the consequences by the end of the month when U.N. inspectors file a report on 60 days of searches in Iraq for illicit weapons.
"If Iraq is not disarming, the United Nations cannot turn away from its responsibilities," Powell said.
He said the U.N. Security Council, which is due to consider the report on Jan. 29, must come to grips with a regime that he said has acquired, developed and stocked weapons of mass destruction and trampled human rights at home.
"So no matter how difficult the road ahead may be with respect to Iraq, we must not shrink from a need to travel down that road," Powell said.
"Hopefully, there will be a peaceful solution," he said. "But if Iraq does not come into full compliance, we must not shrink from the responsibilities that we set before ourselves" when the Security Council called for the disarmament of Iraq.
Speaking of war
Casting aside diplomatic ambiguity, Powell spoke directly of war. "Iraq has a responsibility now to avoid a conflict, to avoid a war," he said.
The U.N. inspectors, by contrast, have said they were making progress in their searches, may require months more of time, and have referred to the report due next Monday as only an interim report.
Some 16 chemical weapons warheads have been divulged by Iraq, a move taken by the inspectors as a sign of cooperation.
But Powell brushed that aside. He said of the Iraqis: "We cannot let them dribble out this information, dribble these warheads out."
Iraq knows how many weapons of mass destruction it has hidden away, Powell said, "We will not allow Iraq to frustrate the will of the world."
Separately, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld dismissed suggestions that U.N. weapons inspectors would need months of additional time to determine whether Iraq is meeting its obligation to disarm.
"The burden of proof is on Iraq to prove that it is disarming," Rumsfeld said in a speech to a Reserve Officers Association conference. "Thus far they have been unwilling to do so."
British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, in his U.N. speech, said it was important to "wait and see what the inspectors actually say," but he emphasized that "time is running out for Saddam Hussein."
"This game of hide-and-seek has got to stop and there's got to be complete, active, positive compliance by Iraq with the obligations imposed on Iraq by this Security Council," he said. Straw spoke as Britain announced it was sending 26,000 troops to the Persian Gulf in preparation for possible military action against Iraq.
Other Europeans said they had yet to be convinced war would not make things worse.
"We have no illusions about the brutal nature of Saddam Hussein's regime," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fisher said during a daylong Security Council meeting on counterterrorism. But, he said: "We are greatly concerned that a military strike against the regime in Baghdad would involve considerable and unpredictable risks for the global fight on terrorism."
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said he believed Iraq could still be disarmed through peaceful means. "We believe that today, nothing justifies envisaging military action .... As long as you can make progress with the inspectors and get cooperation, there's no point in choosing the worst possible solution - military intervention."
Resolution 1441, crafted by Washington and London and passed by a unanimous Security Council in November, warns Iraq of "serious consequences," if it fails to comply with inspections.
In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on Monday dismissed reports that Iraq was now encouraging Iraqi scientists to take part in interviews with U.N. inspectors. "We're only interested in action after 11 and 12 years of watching Saddam Hussein give his word and not keeping it," Fleischer said.
"Everyone stressed the importance of disarmament and the hope that Iraq gets the message," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said after Powell met with Foreign Ministers de Villepin, Tang Jiaxuan of China and Luis Ernesto Derbez of Mexico.
But Tang of China pressed a go-slow approach, telling reporters Monday that the Jan. 27 report "is not a full stop of the inspection work but a new beginning."
"There's more work to do in terms of the inspection and it will take some time," Tang said, adding that the inspectors' work is "proceeding well."
And Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, referring to President Bush reserving the option to use force without U.N. consent, said "we must be careful not to take unilateral action."