Secretary of State Colin Powell Wednesday went before the U.N. Security Council with tapes and satellite photos to bolster the Bush administration's case that Iraq has no intention of complying with the U.N. resolution giving it a "last chance" to disarm.
Mr. Powell's presentation included what had been highly classified U.S. intelligence information and provided what he said was "irrefutable and undeniable" evidence that Iraq is conspiring to conceal banned weapons from U.N. inspectors. He told the council the evidence makes clear Iraq is in "further material breach" of resolution 1441 and warned that the credibility of the United Nations itself is at stake if it fails to act.
"My colleagues, we have an obligation to our citizens. We have an obligation to this body to see that our resolutions are complied with," he said. "We wrote 1441 not in order to go to war. We wrote 1441 to try to preserve the peace. We wrote 1441 to give Iraq one last chance. Iraq is not so far taking that one last chance. We must not shrink from whatever is ahead of us. We must not fail in our duty and our responsibility to the citizens of the countries that are represented by this body."
Mr. Powell revealed for the first time U.S. evidence of Iraqi links to the al-Qaida terrorist network. He said Saddam Hussein has provided safe haven and chemical and biological weapons training for terrorist operatives of Abu Musab Zarqawi, an associate of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, whose faction he said was behind last year's killing of U.S. aid official Lawrence Foley in Jordan.
He said members of the Zarqawi faction have been operating freely in Baghdad for the past eight months, and that Iraq's denials of links to terrorism should be considered in the same vein as its assertions that it has no banned weapons.
"Saddam was a supporter of terrorism long before these terrorist networks had a name, and this support continues," said Mr. Powell. "The nexus of poisons and terror is new. The nexus of Iraq and terror is old. The combination is lethal. With this track record, Iraqi denials of supporting terrorism take their place alongside the other Iraqi denials of weapons of mass destruction. It is all a web of lies."
Mr. Powell presented declassified satellite pictures showing what he said were active Iraqi chemical weapons bunkers and played tape recordings of what he said were Iraqi military officers discussing ways of hiding banned materials from inspectors and the need to remove references to nerve gas weapons from official orders.
The secretary of state was followed to the podium by a parade of fellow foreign ministers, including Britain's Jack Straw, who said Mr. Powell had made a "most powerful case," and that Saddam Hussein is gambling that, as he put it, we will lose our nerve rather than enforce our will."
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said inspections must continue but said if that path failed, his government ruled out no option, including as a last resort, the use of force.
Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said the intelligence material presented by Mr. Powell should be handed over to U.N. inspectors and that the inspections should continue:
"It is the universal desire of the international community to see a political settlement to the issue of Iraq, within the U.N. framework and avoid any war," he said. "This is something the Security Council must attach due importance to. As long as there is still the slightest hope for a political settlement, we should give our utmost effort to achieve that. China is ready to join others in working toward this direction."
Although Iraq is not a Security Council member, its U.N. ambassador Mohammed al-Douri was invited to provide a response. Mr. al-Douri reiterated Saddam Hussein's assertion Tuesday that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction, and suggested that evidence presented by Mr. Powell had been faked in an effort to build a case for war.
"No new information was provided, mere sound recordings that cannot be ascertained as genuine," Mr. al-Douri. "Perhaps you saw me smile when I heard some of these recordings. They contained some words that I will not attempt to translate here. However there are incorrect allegations, unnamed sources, unknown sources. There are assumptions and presumptions which all fall in line with the American policy toward one known objective."
Mr. Powell followed up his presentation with bilateral meetings here with ten foreign ministers including France's de Villepin and Russia's Igor Ivanov, whose governments wield veto power in the council.
The diplomatic focus is now shifting to the Baghdad visit this coming weekend by chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohammed ElBaradei and their pending report to the Security Council February 14.