U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a Washington policy speech Wednesday that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has still not made a strategic decision to disarm. Mr. Powell said the Iraqi leader is pinning his hopes of retaining banned weapons on disunity in the international community. Mr. Powell said U.S. intelligence information shows that the Baghdad government is actively concealing weapons from U.N. inspectors.
Mr. Powell said the United States is ready to lead a coalition to disarm Iraq even in the absence of a new U.N. resolution, and that it will be apparent in the next few days whether the Iraqi leader understands the gravity of the situation.
Addressing Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Secretary cited U.S. intelligence information that Iraq continues to conceal weapons from U.N. inspectors. He said war can be avoided even at this late hour if Saddam Hussein fully discloses his weapons holdings. But he said the Iraqi leader still appears to be pinning his hopes for avoiding military action on disunity among Security Council members.
"He's betting however that his contempt for the will of the international community is stronger than the collective resolve of the Security Council to impose its will," he said. "Saddam Hussein is betting that some members of the council will not sanction the use of force despite all the evidence of his continued refusal to disarm. Divisions among us, and there are divisions among us, if these decisions continue they will only convince Saddam Hussein that he is right. But I can assure you, he is wrong."
Building on his presentation of evidence to the Security Council last month, Mr. Powell said U.S. intelligence has learned that Iraqi authorities have begun hiding banned weapons in old vehicles in poor urban neighborhoods, and have transported chemical and biological weapons to remote sites near the Turkish and Syrian borders.
He also minimized Iraq's well-publicized destruction in recent days of al-Samoud-2 missiles which exceed U.N. range limitations, saying that even as some missiles are dismantled, most will be shielded from inspectors and production of the weapons and engines for them will continue.
"Iraq has brought its machinery that produces such missiles out into the daylight for all to see. But we have intelligence that said at the very same time, it has also begun to hide machinery it can use to convert other kinds of engines to power al-Samoud-2s. Once again, he plays the double game. Even as he orders some to be destroyed, he is continuing with activities that will allow more to be produced. We can see no real improvement on substance. Iraq is far from disarming," he said.
The secretary goes to New York Thursday for consultations with fellow Security Council foreign ministers and a critical report from chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix on Friday.
He said he will urge council approval of the new U.S.-British resolution stating that Iraq has failed to avail itself of the last chance to disarm afforded by last November's resolution 1441.
He said if Saddam Hussein leaves no choice but disarmament by force, a military campaign would be conducted quickly and in a way that would minimize civilian casualties.
He also emphasized President Bush's personal commitment to work for early progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace through the forthcoming settlement "roadmap" of the diplomatic "quartet" of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.