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Powell: Iraq Weapons Report a 'Flagrant' Violation of UN Resolution - 2002-12-19

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says Iraq has flagrantly violated last month's disarmament resolution from the U.N. Security Council. However he suggests there are still weeks to go before a decision is made by the United States to seek the use of military force to get compliance.

Mr. Powell delivered a stern warning to Iraq in a press appearance here, just a few hours after U.N. inspections chief Hans Blix gave his initial report to the Security Council on the massive weapons accounting Iraq submitted two weeks ago.

The secretary called the 12,000-page document a "catalog of recycled information and flagrant omissions" and said it constituted another material breach of Iraq's U.N. obligations. He said Saddam Hussein has responded to "this final opportunity with a new lie" and said the declaration "fails totally" to move toward a peaceful resolution of the crisis over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

"Resolution 1441 calls for serious consequences for Iraq if it does not comply with the terms of the resolution," he said. "Iraq's noncompliance, and defiance of the international community, has brought it closer to the day when it will have to face these consequences. The world is still waiting for Iraq to comply with its obligations. The world will not wait forever. Security Council resolution 1441 will be carried out in full. Iraq can no longer be allowed to threaten its people and its region with weapons of mass destruction."

Earlier at the U.N., inspections chief Blix said the Iraqi accounting provided little new information, and that the absence of evidence in the document means there "cannot be confidence" in Baghdad's assertions that it no longer possesses weapons of mass destruction.

Both Mr. Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohammed El-Baradei said Iraq has been cooperating with U.N. inspectors since their return last month, though Mr. ElBaradei said this does not necessarily mean Iraq has been forthcoming with relevant information.

"Iraq is cooperating well in terms of process. We both, I think, agree that we still need much more cooperation from Iraq in terms of substance, in terms of coming with evidence to exonerate themselves that they are clean from weapons of mass destruction," he said. "And I think that's a challenge for both them and us. If they come with additional information, then our task will be much shorter, much easier, our conclusion would be much more credible."

There were similar comments from Britain's U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock. While he did not join his U.S. colleagues in saying Iraq's report amounts to a material breach of U.N. requirements, he did call the document "deeply disappointing." Mr. Greenstock suggested that, if is to avoid a confrontation, Iraq will now have to actively volunteer information to fill the "gaps and omissions" in its statement.

"One hundred percent pro-active cooperation with the inspectors and with the Security Council in dealing immediately with all those areas where doubts remain is going to be necessary. One hundred per cent pro-active cooperation with the inspectors, not just on process, on access," he said. "On opening doors, as the inspections chief said to us this morning, but also pro-active cooperation on the substance of what needs now to be cleared up. This is now going to be the test of whether we can get through this in the way that the Security Council wants."

Iraq did not take part on the closed-door Security Council briefing. But the Iraqi deputy U.N. ambassador Mohammed Salman told reporters the U.S. charges of deception were "baseless" and that the report was "complete and comprehensive" and can be verified on the ground by U.N. teams.

"Iraq is not in a material breach, as the ambassador of the United States of America has said right now," he said. "This is the interpretation of the U.S., and doesn't represent the interpretation of the whole international community and UNMOVIC and the IAEA. The U.S. made it clear that the matter is not disarmament but to change the legitimate government of Iraq."

Under questioning here, Secretary of State Powell said there is no calendar deadline for Iraqi compliance but said there is a "practical limit" to how long non-cooperation can be tolerated, and said Iraq "is well on its way to losing this last chance."

The Washington Post said in its Thursday editions the Bush administration has set the last week in January as a "make or break" point for decisions on whether to seek military action.