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UN Security Council Still Divided Over Iraq - 2003-01-30

After a day of briefings from U.N. weapons experts, members of the United Nations Security Council appear no closer to agreement on the next steps in the Iraqi disarmament process.

The council is now waiting to be shown classified U.S. intelligence about Iraq's weapons programs which the Bush administration says it will present next week. The United States is trying to make its case that force may be the only option left for getting Iraq to give up its suspected weapons of mass destruction.

Security Council members asked more questions of chief U.N. weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei Wednesday, but were still not ready to support the United States and Britain, which have already concluded Iraq is not cooperating and say time for more inspections is running out.

Just a day after President Bush again warned the United States would act alone to disarm Iraq if necessary, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte told reporters weapons inspections will not be allowed to go on indefinitely.

"We think the time for diplomatic action is narrowing," he said. "The diplomatic window is closing. We feel that the time for decision making is fast approaching."

But Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov emerged from a day of closed door meetings to say a majority of Security Council members still want inspectors to remain on the job, especially he says, now that there are signs Iraq is increasing its cooperation.

"They haven't seen anything which would indicate Iraq resumed its programs of weapons of mass destruction and I don't believe there is any credible reason to talk about some other means except continuation of the inspections," he said.

The Bush administration plans to send Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Security Council next week with classified information, which the administration says will show once and for all that Iraq is still building weapons of mass destruction bolstering the administration's case that military force may now be the only way to ensure disarmament.

Iraq adamantly denies it has any banned weapons. Its ambassador Mohammed Aldouri told reporters after two months of searches, weapons inspectors have uncovered nothing and charged the real U.S. interest in Iraq is oil.

"You can accuse as much as you like but you cannot provide one piece of evidence. We call on the United Nations to shoulder its responsibilities to protect Iraq from this colonial administration which is blinded by its oil fever," said Ambassador Aldouri.

U.N. weapons teams say they have found no 'smoking gun' in Iraq. But in a report submitted to the Security Council Monday, Chief inspector Hans Blix said Baghdad can not account for many of its banned weapons programs and does not appear to have a genuine interest in disarming. With the inspection process continuing, weapons experts are set to provide the Security Council with another report in mid-February, about the time that a massive U.S. military build up in the Persian Gulf would be nearing completion.