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Powell tells UN Iraq hid arms, deceived weapons inspectors

More time needed, say council skeptics

By Elizabeth Neuffer, Globe Staff, 2/6/2003

UNITED NATIONS -- Secretary of State Colin L. Powell used dramatic satellite images and chilling telephone intercepts yesterday to try to convince the United Nations Security Council that Iraq poses an imminent threat, harboring Al Qaeda terrorists and concealing banned deadly weapons in defiance of a UN order to disarm.

Powell painstakingly presented US intelligence that he said showed that Iraq is waging an ''active and systematic effort'' to frustrate UN arms inspections. He accused Baghdad of removing prohibited weapons as inspectors arrived, concealing warheads with biological warfare agents, and hiding classified documents in private homes.

''Iraq has now placed itself in danger of serious consequences,'' Powell told the hushed, crowded Security Council chamber, using UN parlance for military action. ''This body places itself in danger of irrelevance if its allows Iraq to continue to defy its will without responding effectively and immediately.''

But Powell's 80-minute presentation, considered so important that it was attended by the foreign ministers of 12 of the council's 15 member nations, did not appear to sway skeptics.

France, China, and Russia -- with Britain and the United States the five permanent council members with veto powers -- said that Powell's charges would need further study, although they demanded that Iraq answer the American diplomat's accusations. And they argued that Powell's presentation only underscored the need for more and strengthened UN weapons inspections. ''In this matter, it is very difficult to have absolute proof,'' the French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, told reporters. ''That is why we need to enhance inspections on the ground. We cannot base our analysis only on suspicions. We need facts.''

France proposed tripling the number of inspectors, opening more regional offices in Iraq, establishing a specialized body to keep under surveillance the sites and areas already inspected, and increasing intelligence gathering. It pledged use of its Mirage IV aircraft.

Iraq's ambassador to the UN, Mohammed Al-Douri, angrily denounced Powell's presentation yesterday. He told the Security Council that audiotapes played yesterday were ''not genuine'' and said Powell's testimony was full of ''incorrect allegations, unnamed sources, unknown sources.''

Powell's presentation contained the strongest charges yet put forward by the Bush administration that Iraq is actively concealing the banned weapons it says it does not possess and that Baghdad is undermining, rather than cooperating with, UN weapons inspections.

''Iraq never had any intention of complying with this council's mandate,'' Powell said, as George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, sat behind him.

Among Powell's accusations:

* Iraqi officials repeatedly evacuated evidence of prohibited weapons in advance of UN inspections, including at a chemical weapons storage site just before inspectors arrived on Dec. 22, 2002. They also bulldozed chemical weapons sites.

* Last fall, Baghdad ordered rocket launchers and warheads containing biological warfare agents to be scattered across secret locations in western Iraq. Iraq also moved mobile bioweapons labs on trucks.

* Iraq has not accounted for and is concealing what remains of its chemical and biological warfare materials, including four tons of deadly VX nerve gas. In one recording Powell presented, a voice identified as an Iraqi officer ordered that references to ''nerve agents'' be removed in wireless communiques.

* Saddam Hussein has created a committee to spy on UN weapons inspectors and ordered the concealment of key correspondence about weapons of mass destruction. He also placed weapons scientists under house arrest to keep them from inspectors.

* Baghdad harbors a terrorist network headed by Al Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which has established a poison and explosives training center in northeastern Iraq.

In Baghdad, Lieutenant General Amir al-Saadi, an Iraqi presidential adviser vilified by Powell in his speech, lashed out. ''What we heard today was for the general public and mainly the uninformed, in order to influence their opinion and to commit the aggression on Iraq,'' Saadi said.

As Security Council members weighed their responses, only Britain echoed Powell's call for member nations to stand up to Iraqi defiance.

''Time is very short,'' Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, told council members. ''If noncooperation continues, this council must meet its responsibilities.''

Among the other council members, Spain and Bulgaria are also likely US and British allies.

Under a Security Council resolution passed Nov. 8, Iraq must disarm immediately or face ''serious consequences,'' a term widely interpreted to mean a US-led military strike.

Other diplomats, emerging from a lunch after Powell's presentation, said they wanted to hear more about Powell's allegations from chief UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei after they visit Baghdad this weekend. The two are expected to raise Washington's new allegations in meetings with Iraqi officials.

The inspections chiefs are scheduled to make their next report on Feb. 14, but double-checking all the evidence presented by Powell could take at least several weeks.

''This new evidence will help them a lot,'' the Mexican foreign minister, Luis Ernesto Derbez, said of UN weapons inspectors. ''Now they can go check in the field.'' Mexico, Guinea, Syria, and Germany also called for inspections to continue.

After his presentation, Powell met with representatives of 10 nations, including Russia, as the United States pushed its case against Iraq. Administration officials said the next few days will be crucial in assessing whether Powell's presentation helped persuade key allies to adopt a second UN resolution authorizing force against Iraq. Winning UN approval for military action would help the United States enlist a broad coalition that would share the costs of war and of rebuilding Iraq.

For now, council members were not publicly discussing what steps they would take next. One source of clear concern was that Powell's report yesterday differed significantly from the details put forward last week by UN weapons inspectors, which raised questions whether Washington had shared crucial evidence with the UN arms team.

For example, one of the most striking allegations of Iraqi defiance yesterday was a Dec. 22 satellite image that indicated two chemical munitions bunkers had been ''sanitized,'' with guards and equipment removed, just before the weapons inspectors arrived.

But the weapons inspectors had reported the Dec. 22 incident differently, focusing on the fact that they had discovered empty 122mm chemical rockets. Blix told the Security Council that the rockets could be the ''tip of a submerged iceberg,'' given that Iraq had not fully accounted for thousands of chemical rockets. But he gave no account of the apparent coverup by Iraq, leading some diplomats at the UN to speculate that he had not been informed of it.

Blix, interview by the Associated Press as he left UN headquarters for Europe, said only: ''All the facts are desirable to be on the table.''

Richard Grenell, a spokesman for US Ambassador John D. Negroponte, denied that US intelligence had not been shared with the UN arms team. ''Every actionable item has already been shared with them before today,'' Grenell said of UN weapons inspectors, although he was not asked specifically about the Iraqi rockets. Several council members stressed that they had great faith in Blix and the inspections process and that war must be avoided at all costs.

''The information provided today by the US secretary of state once again convincingly indicates the fact that the activities of the international inspectors in Iraq must be continued,'' Russia's foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, told council members.

''I think the message today was clear,'' UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told reporters. ''Everyone wants Iraq to be proactive in cooperating with the inspectors and fulfill the demands of the international community. I think if they do that, we can avoid a war. ''

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 2/6/2003.
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