Secretary of State Colin Powell, preparing for two days of talks at the United Nations in New York, says the U.N. Security Council is at a "critical moment," as it considers whether to enforce its demands that Iraq disarm.
Mr. Powell will meet with fellow foreign ministers from the Security Council, and attend Friday's Iraq briefing by chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix, as he continues a difficult diplomatic fight to win support for a U.S.-British resolution authorizing the use of force against Saddam Hussein.
Appearing at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing before his departure for New York, the secretary said the United Nations is at a critical juncture and is "in danger of becoming irrelevant," if it passes resolution after resolution that are totally ignored by a country that continues to possess and build banned weapons. "The moment we find ourselves in now is a critical moment, where we are being tested, and where the Security Council, the United Nations, the international community, is being tested," said Colin Powell. "Are we going to allow an individual such as Saddam Hussein to continue to develop these weapons of mass destruction, or to deceive us into believing that he isn't, when we know he is, because it's too hard to face the consequences of dealing with the truth?"
Mr. Powell came under critical questioning from the Senate panel's senior Democrat, Patrick Leahy, who suggested the Bush administration's handling of foreign policy was at least partly to blame for the split in U.S. public opinion and among Security Council members over an early recourse to military force.
In a back-and-forth exchange with Mr. Leahy, Mr. Powell said a number of countries, which supported last November's resolution giving Iraq a "last-chance" to disarm, are now reluctant to come to terms with the implications of their own vote.
POWELL: "Everybody who voted for that knew what that meant. That meant, if they didn't comply, there would be a war. There were some at that time who were already beginning to say: 'Well, good, we've bought some time. And then we'll buy some more time, and then we'll buy some more time, and this whole thing will go away.' "
LEAHY: "But is that what our allies are doing? Is that what Germany is doing? Is that what France is doing? Is that what China is doing?"
POWELL: "Yes, it's what some of our allies are doing. But some of our allies, like the United Kingdom, like Spain, like Italy, like Portugal, like the newly-emerging nations of Eastern Europe, those allies, like Australia, are standing up with us, standing up strongly."
Mr. Powell said it was still a possibility, even at this late date, that Iraq could avoid war by doing what it has been asked to do by the Security Council. But he said it would not happen, if the option of using force was taken off the table.
The secretary had telephone conversations before the hearing with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and his Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Maher.
He had bilateral meetings scheduled for late Thursday in New York with the foreign ministers of Britain, Spain and Qatar, and is expected to address the Security Council, after the briefing by Mr. Blix Friday, in what could be a final appeal for the U.S.-British resolution.