U.N. weapons inspectors, in their much-anticipated report to the Security Council Monday, gave a mixed review of Iraq's cooperation with disarmament demands. In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the finding came as no surprise, and that Iraq does not have much more time to comply, if it wants to avoid war.
The weapons inspectors gave Iraq credit for, among other things, not impeding the U.N. personnel in their visits to suspect sites around the country. But, the head of the inspections mission, Hans Blix, made clear that Iraq's performance fell well short of the pro-active cooperation that would bring the process to an early completion, and avoid the use of force, threatened implicitly in last November's Security Council resolution.
Addressing the Security Council in a public briefing, Mr. Blix lamented that Iraq has not followed the example of South Africa, which voluntarily gave up a nuclear weapons program in 1990. He said, Baghdad appears not to have accepted the need to cooperate in the disarmament process.
"Unlike South Africa, which decided on its own to eliminate its nuclear weapons, and welcomed inspection as a means of creating confidence in its disarmament, Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament, which was demanded of it, and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world, and to live in peace," he said.
Mr. Blix said two months of U.N. inspections have left major questions unanswered, including how much of the chemical and biological weapons Iraq had after the Gulf War remain intact, and what, if anything, was acquired since 1998, when inspectors left Baghdad.
He said, the discovery of empty chemical weapons munitions earlier this month "could be the tip of a submerged iceberg," and that the finding of thousands of secret weapons documents at the private home of an Iraqi scientist could indicate a serious effort to conceal information from the United Nations.
Mr. Blix's counterpart at the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, said IAEA inspectors have turned up no information that Iraq has revived its nuclear program, and that his agency should be able "in the next few months" to make a definitive judgment.
In a swift response, the Bush administration dismissed Iraqi cooperation as inadequate, with U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte saying he had heard nothing in the briefing that gave him any hope Iraq will disarm voluntarily.
Meeting reporters here, Secretary of State Colin 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 next.
However, Mr. Powell also made 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," he said. "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."
Mr. Powell said, it is quite appropriate for Germany, in its capacity as the new Security Council president, 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.
However other members of the Security Council were advocating patience and more inspections. France's U.N. ambassador, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, said the inspections were yielding results, and should continue for several weeks, or even a few months more before the use of force is contemplated.
"The system we have set up in Resolution 1441 is producing results," he said. "And this is one very important point, that we need now a more active cooperation from Iraq, and we need more time. I think, what many delegations said this morning during the consultation is that, we need more time."
Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock of Britain, whose government has been solidly aligned with the United States on the inspections issue, said he agreed on the need for another report to the Security Council February 14. But he said there is nothing in Iraq's performance in the renewed inspections, thus far, to suggest that prolonging the process much beyond that will produce different results.
"It's not a matter of time, its a matter of attitude," Amb. Greenstock said. "And the attitude we're getting from the Iraqis at the moment is just not sufficient for the eradication of the programs that we know about. That's what we're going to discuss. That is why time is running out, and that is why we need now, we all know we need now, 'Grade A' cooperation from the Iraqis in a way, which is not happening."
Secretary of State Powell said he remained a proponent of diplomacy in resolving the conflict, but said Iraq has been passing up every "exit ramp" that might lead to a peaceful solution.
He put heavy stress on consultations the Bush administration will have over the next several days, including what could be a pivotal meeting between President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Camp David presidential retreat Friday.