The top U.N. weapons inspector for Iraq says, after 11 weeks of inspections, his teams have found no weapons of mass destruction. But in a status report to the U.N. Security Council, Hans Blix says many weapons Iraq had been ordered to destroy cannot be accounted for. The United Nations, where council members still appear to be split on what to do next.
Hans Blix says Iraq continues to allow weapons inspectors access to suspected weapons sites, but that Baghdad still cannot explain what happened to banned biological and chemical weapons that were supposed to be destroyed.
"To take an example, a document which Iraq provided suggested to us that some 1,000 tons of chemical agent were unaccounted for. I must not jump to the conclusion that they exist. However, that possibility is also not excluded," he said.
And, he says, his inspectors believe it may be impossible to ever verify with absolute certainty whether Baghdad has destroyed these substances, or whether it is still hiding them as the United States and Britain claim.
"They are not very hopeful that it could prove possible to assess the quantities of material poured into the grounds years ago," he said. "Documentary evidence and testimony by staff that dealt with the items still appears to be needed."
In a separate report, chief U.N. nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei told the council he has found no evidence suggesting Iraq is rebuilding nuclear weapons.
Still, Britain and the United States now believe Baghdad has been given every opportunity to comply with U.N. disarmament demands, and that this latest report to the Security Council shows once again that it has failed to do so.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Council the inspectors' report shows Baghdad continues to "deceive, deny and divert," as he put it, attention from its alleged weapons program.
"What is needed is not more inspections," he said. "What we need is not more immediate access. What we need is immediate, active, unconditional full cooperation on the part of Iraq."
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the council, further inspections will only allow Iraq to continue building weapons, while undermining the authority of the United Nations.
"The issue before us is of the authority of the U.N. and of the defiance of the United Nations resolutions," he said. "On the eighth of November, we said unanimously that Saddam was to have a final opportunity. Can anyone say, does anyone truly believe here that he has yet taken that final opportunity?"
Iraq denies it has any weapons of mass destruction, which Baghdad's U.N. ambassador, Mohamed Al-Douri, reiterated in his response to the inspectors' report.
"You cannot give what you do not have," he said. "If we do not possess such weapons, how can we disarm ourselves of such weapons? Indeed, how can they be disarmed, when they do not exist?"
However, council members appeared to still be divided over how to proceed. U.S. officials say Washington and Britain have already begun drafting another Security Council resolution that would clear the way for military force to disarm Baghdad.
Permanent council members France, Russia and China, which have veto power, want to give weapons inspectors more time. "What is at stake here is war and peace; and our common responsibility of everyone in the Security Council is involved. And, we are willing to try and give peace a chance," said Dominique deVillepin, the French foreign minister. President Bush has warned if Iraq does not disarm, the United States will lead a military coalition to ensure it does, with or without Security Council approval.