U.N. arms inspectors told the Security Council Thursday they found huge gaps in Iraq's accounting of its weapons of mass destruction. The American ambassador to the United Nations called the Iraqi declaration, which was turned over to the inspectors this month, another material breach of U.N. resolutions.
An experts' preliminary assessment of some 12,000 pages submitted by Baghdad found nothing much new in the data. Apparently a lot of the information on Iraq's weapons programs was already declared before 1998, when the inspectors were last in Iraq.
U.S. ambassador John Negroponte called it unfortunate, saying Iraq has spurned its last opportunity to comply with U.N. disarmament demands. "These are material omissions that, in our view, constitute another material breach," he said. "It is up to Iraq to prove that there is some other explanation besides the obvious one, that this declaration is just one more act of deception in a history of lies from a defiant dictator."
British ambassador Jeremy Greenstock agreed, adding that Iraq's cooperation on the ground with the U.N. inspection teams has become even more critical. "The test in cooperating with them now is that much higher and greater because this declaration is inadequate," he said.
But neither the American nor the British diplomat would say whether war against Iraq is imminent. U.S. ambassador Negroponte indicated that Washington would be watching the inspection process very closely and consulting with its Security Council colleagues.
The next key date for Iraq is January 27, when U.N. arms inspectors are obliged to report back to New York and the Council on Iraq's performance.
Meanwhile, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, says the inspectors will have to embark on a more intensive search for Iraqi weapons. He says both he and chief inspector Hans Blix agree Iraq, which maintains it has destroyed all the banned material, needs to produce evidence to prove it.
"We both, I think, agree that we still need much more cooperation from Iraq in terms of substance, in terms of coming up with evidence, to exonerate themselves that they are clean of weapons of mass destruction," he said. "If they come with additional information, then our task will be much shorter, much easier and our conclusions will be much more credible."
Both France and Russia, among the five key members on the Security Council, conceded that Iraq's declaration on its weapons programs was grossly lacking and very disappointing. But both said they are willing to let the inspection process run its course, hoping that Baghdad will see the wisdom of full compliance.