Key members of the U.N. Security Council disagree with the U.S. assertion that Iraq is running out of time to comply with its obligations under last November's resolution. France, Russia and China, favor giving weapons inspectors more time.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, said Iraq has already been given ample time to comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, which obligates Iraq to cooperate with inspectors and give up all weapons of mass destruction or face "serious consequences."
"I would just put the question of how long is enough? How much time is enough for Iraq to come into compliance? This resolution has now been in effect for 80 days, and what has happened in that time? And, let's remember one other point: The purpose of this exercise is not inspections, it is disarmament of Iraq," he said.
Mr. Negroponte spoke to reporters after chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei presented their report to the Security Council. Mr. Blix said questions remain about whether Iraq has destroyed all of its banned weapons of mass destruction, and that serious shortcomings exist in Iraq's cooperation with weapons inspectors.
Mr. ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, suggested his work should be allowed to continue.
China, France and Russia, all Security Council members with veto power, appeared ready to agree.
France's U.N. ambassador, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, says the November resolution, which returned weapons inspectors to Iraq for the first time in four years, set no deadline for deciding when to impose "serious consequences" if Iraq fails to disarm.
"There are no time limits in Resolution 1441. And, I remind that, according to Resolution 1441, at any time, Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei can report to the council that it is of interest of Iraq to cooperate more actively," he said.
Germany, which takes over the rotating presidency of the council from France next month, agrees that better and more active cooperation is needed. Germany would like to see another report from the inspectors to the Security Council next month. China also says more time is needed.
Meanwhile, Iraq's ambassador, Mohammed Aldouri, rejected Mr. Blix's assertion that there were serious gaps in the 12,000-page weapons declaration Iraq submitted last month. He said Iraq was cooperating fully, both with the IAEA and with Mr. Blix's inspection group, UNMOVIC.
"Iraq provided a full and compete declaration, and since the 27th of November 2002, Iraq has actively cooperated with Resolution 1441, by facilitating interviews and granting unconditional and unrestricted access for inspections from the IAEA an UNMOVIC," he said.
The Security Council is expected to continue its discussions on Iraq on Tuesday.