U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has provided the United Nations with what he calls irrefutable proof that Iraq is continuing to build and hide weapons of mass destruction, while maintaining links to terrorist groups including al-Qaida.
In a dramatic presentation televised around the world, Mr. Powell showed the council previously classified information suggesting Iraq is actively hiding weapons from U.N. inspectors. Although they plan to review the evidence, permanent Security Council members Russia, China and France say they are not yet ready to confront Iraq with force and want more time for inspections.
It was the Bush administration's most detailed and public presentation yet about Iraq's alleged weapons programs. Secretary of State Powell provided the Security Council with a range of previously classified intelligence including intercepted telephone conversations between Iraqi military officials, information gleaned from Iraqi informants, as well as satellite photos of material being hauled away from suspected weapons barracks.
"We have first-hand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails," he said. "We also have satellite photos that indicate that banned materials have recently been moved from a number of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction facilities."
All of this to make the case that Iraq has no interest in disarming and is now in further breach of U.N. resolutions.
"I believe this conclusion is irrefutable and undeniable: Iraq has now placed itself in serious danger of the consequences called for in U.N. resolution 1441," the secretary of state said.
Mr. Powell also played an audio tape containing what were described as the voices of two Iraqi military officers overheard discussing orders not to talk about nerve agents. It was further evidence, Secretary Powell said, of Baghdad's alleged efforts to cover up the production of deadly weapons. And, he offered council members what he said was intelligence that Iraq is attempting to stay one step ahead of U.N. efforts to uncover its missile production.
"Five large cargo trucks appeared along with a truck-mounted crane to move missiles," he said. "We saw this kind of house cleaning at close to 30 sites. Days after this activity, the vehicles and the equipment that I've just highlighted disappeared."
But after a presentation that lasted more than an hour, other council members still appeared unconvinced that force is now the only recourse left to ensure Iraq disarms. Several council members including Russia, China and France all of which have the power to veto a resolution authorizing force said they wanted weapons inspections to continue.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin and his Chinese counterpart Tang Jiaxuan both spoke through translators.
"Why go to war if there still exists some unused space in resolution 1441? Consistent with the logic of this resolution, we must move on to a new stage and further strengthen the inspections," Mr. de Villepin said.
"As long as there is still the slightest hope for a political settlement, we should exert our utmost effort to achieve that," said Mr. Tang.
Iraq's U.N. ambassador Mohammed al-Douri denied all of the allegations presented by the United States Wednesday, as well as U.S. charges that Baghdad is harboring al-Qaida operatives linked to the murder of an American diplomat in Jordan. He as well, spoke through an interpreter.
"The clear goal behind the presentation of the Secretary of State of the United States, of false allegations before this council today is to sell the idea of war and aggression against my country Iraq without any legal, moral or political justification," he said. "As for the supposed relationship between Iraq and the al-Qaida organization, I would note what his excellency President Saddam Hussein said and I quote, if we had a relationship with al-Qaida and we believed in that relationship, we would not be ashamed to admit it. We have no relationship with al-Qaida."
Weapons inspections in Iraq continue and the chief U.N. weapons inspectors are set to return to Baghdad this weekend before briefing the Security Council again February 14. Before he left the Council chamber Wednesday, Secretary of State Powell warned members it's clear Iraq has failed the test of cooperation and that if the United Nations fails respond effectively and immediately, it risks becoming irrelevant.