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UN Security Council Continues Debate on Iraq - 2003-01-28

Members of the U.N, Security Council are continuing consultations on how to proceed regarding Iraq, in the wake of the report from U.N. weapons inspectors, who said questions remain unanswered about Iraq's weapons program. Some key Security Council members say the inspectors should be given more time to complete their work. But the United States and Britain say time for Iraq to disarm peacefully is quickly running out.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix went through a list of weapons and material, he says Baghdad has failed to fully account for, including missiles and aspects of its chemical and biological weapons programs. Although he stopped short of asking for more time to continue working in Iraq, the U.N.'s chief nuclear inspector, Mohamed ElBaradei, made clear he wants inspections to continue for several months, saying so far searches have found no banned nuclear material. Iraq maintains it has destroyed all of its banned weapons.

Monday's report only served to underscore the differences among council members over what should happen next in the weapons inspection process. The United States and Britain have already concluded that Iraq is not fully cooperating with UN inspectors.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte outlined the U.S. view.

"Nothing we have heard today gives us hope that Iraq intends to fully comply," he said.

But Russia, China and France all want weapons inspectors to be given more time to complete their work. And with council members deeply divided over what course of action to take, Britain's ambassador, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, expects more consultations, but no quick decisions about where the process goes from here.

"We are then going to allow for a couple of days for Security Council delegations to report back to their capitals and get further instructions for the debate and informal consultations we're having on Wednesday," he said. "I don't think that that debate will necessarily be conclusive."

The United States has not ruled out giving weapons inspectors more time to conduct searches, even as it continues the largest military build up in the Persian Gulf since the Gulf war in 1991. Germany, which also opposes military action against Iraq, is expected to ask inspectors for another report by mid-February, when Germany will have assumed the Security Council's rotating presidency.