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Powell Hints Decision on Using Force Against Iraq Only Days Away - 2003-01-27

Secretary of State Colin Powell, giving the Bush administration's formal response to the U.N. weapons inspectors' report, says Iraq does not have much more time to comply with last November's Security Council resolution. Mr. Powell indicated that decisions on the possible use of force against Iraq may only be days away.

Mr. Powell said there would be no move toward military action against Iraq in the coming few days, as the inspectors' report is debated, and the Bush administration consults with friends and allies on what to do. But, he also was clear, the United States has no interest in prolonging for weeks or months an inspection process to which Iraq has provided, at best, only passive cooperation.

"Even at this late date, the United States hopes for a peaceful solution. But a peaceful solution is possible only if Iraq disarms itself with the help of the inspectors. The issue is not how much more time the inspectors need to search in the dark. It is how much more time Iraq should be given to turn on the lights, and to come clean. And the answer is, not much more time. Iraq's time for choosing peaceful disarmament is fast coming to an end," he said.

Mr. Powell said it is quite appropriate for Germany, in its capacity as the new Security Council president next month, to seek another inspectors' report February 14. But he also said, the international community cannot, "keep kicking the can down the road", in the absence of a willingness by Iraq to disarm.

The secretary of state cited chief weapons Inspector Hans Blix's own remarks at the United Nations earlier Monday that Iraq appears not to have "come to a genuine acceptance" of the disarmament process demanded by the international community.

He insisted that he remains a proponent of a peaceful resolution of the weapons confrontation with Baghdad, yet he said Iraq continues to pass up opportunities to make that possible by cooperating with the United Nations and the inspectors.

"I have watched Iraq go by every exit ramp, diplomatic exit ramp, that was put there for them," he said. "They could have made a full and complete and accurate declaration in December, which would have given us some confidence that they were serious about disarmament. Instead, they gave us 12,200 pages of nothing very useful. The inspectors said that today. There was nothing new. They added nothing to the body of knowledge. They tried to deceive the inspectors. They tried to deceive us."

Mr. Powell said he remained "a great believer in diplomacy," yet said, the Security Council is getting "closer and closer" to the point, at which it will have to look at the options it anticipated when resolution 1441 was approved November 8. That measure was framed as a "final opportunity" for Iraq to disarm, and it threatened "serious consequences," meaning the use of force, if Iraq did not do so, and remained in material breach of its requirements.