After a day of briefings from U.N. weapons experts, members of the United Nations Security Council appear no closer to agreement on the next steps in the Iraqi disarmament process and are now waiting for what could be key pieces of intelligence regarding Iraq's weapons programs to be presented by the United States next week.
Security Council members asked more questions of chief U.N. weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei Wednesday, but were apparently still unable to decide on what to do next in the Iraqi disarmament process.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte warned the possibility of military action against Iraq looks increasingly likely with each passing day. "The diplomatic window is closing," he said.
The Bush administration plans to send Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Security Council next week to provide it with classified information, which the administration says will show once and for all that Iraq is still building weapons of mass destruction, to bolster the case that military force may now be the only way to ensure disarmament. "The president would not have offered to have Secretary Powell come and make this briefing next Wednesday if we didn't believe this were the case," said Ambassador Negroponte.
But veto-bearing council members France and Russia believe the inspection process should be allowed to continue. Russian ambassador Sergey Lavrov says his government still has seen nothing to convince him that Iraq is failing to cooperate with weapons inspections, despite President Bush's declaration in his State of the Union Address Tuesday night that Baghdad is showing utter contempt for the United Nations and may have to be disarmed by force. "We have not seen any reason so far to undercut the inspections process," said Sergey Lavrov.
France has not been persuaded either. Its ambassador, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, said, "A majority in the council is in favor of giving more time to the inspectors."
Iraq adamantly denies it has any banned weapons. Iraqi ambassador Mohammed Aldouri emerged from Wednesday's consultations declaring two months of weapons inspections have uncovered nothing and charged the real U.S. interest in Iraq is oil. "You can accuse as much as you like but you cannot provide one piece of evidence," he said. "We call on the United Nations to shoulder its responsibilities to protect Iraq from this colonial administration which is blinded by its oil fever."
So far, after more than two months of inspections, U.N. weapons teams say they have found no 'smoking gun' in Iraq. But in a report submitted to the Security Council Monday, chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said Baghdad can not account for many of its banned weapons programs and appears not to have a genuine interest in disarming.
With the inspection process continuing, weapons experts are set to provide the Security Council with another report in mid-February, about the time that a massive U.S. military build up in the Persian Gulf would be nearing completion.