WASHINGTON - The chief U.N. weapons inspector told the United Nations Security Council yesterday that Iraq has not accepted the need to disarm, even to avoid war, and could possess thousands of chemical weapons, thousands of gallons of a germ warfare agent and missiles that exceed the permitted range.
Hans Blix's tough critique prompted the United States to demand that the Security Council "face its responsibilities" and decide whether to confront Iraq or "make itself irrelevant." In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell again warned that if other nations refuse to act, the United States is prepared to go to war alone.
"The issue is not how much more time the inspectors need to search in the dark," Powell said. "It is how much more time Iraq should be given to turn on the lights and to come clean. And the answer is: Not much more time. Iraq's time for choosing peaceful disarmament is fast coming to an end."
After a meeting of Bush's top foreign policy advisers yesterday morning, a White House official said that information about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction would soon be declassified and made public "about the nature and extent of these programs."
Speaking with reporters yesterday, Powell said U.N. inspectors have told U.S. officials "that they have evidence that Iraq has moved or hidden items at sites just prior to inspection visits."
"We certainly corroborate all of that," Powell said.
Blix, who is in charge of monitoring Iraq's chemical, biological and missile programs, bolstered the Bush administration's case that Iraq is lying and hiding banned weaponry, and that without a turnabout in Baghdad's behavior, prolonging inspections would be futile. Blix pointedly did not ask for more time.
"Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance - not even today - of the disarmament that was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace," Blix told the Security Council.
But Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who is leading the search for Iraq's nuclear weapons programs, did little to advance the American argument.
ElBaradei said his inspectors had found no evidence that Iraq has resumed development of nuclear weapons, and contended that with "sustained, proactive" Iraqi cooperation, this could be confirmed in a few months. Continued inspections, he added, could serve as insurance against Iraqi weapons development.
"These few months would be a valuable investment in peace because it could help avoid a war," ElBaradei said.
Both chief inspectors were providing an "update" called for by the Security Council 60 days after commencing their work.
Their sharply contrasting reports suggest that the immediate threat posed by Iraq lies not in the nuclear field but in the stocks of chemical and biological agents that inspectors failed to find and destroy during the 1990s and in Iraq's development of missiles that can reach beyond the 90-mile limit mandated by the Security Council after the Persian Gulf war in 1991.
In recent days, the Bush administration has avoided highlighting President Saddam Hussein's nuclear ambitions and instead has sought to focus public attention on the prospect that Iraq could transfer chemical and biological weapons to terrorists, particularly Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.
Bush administration officials said yesterday that they have "solid evidence" of an al-Qaida presence in Iraq and that there is "credible reporting" that al-Qaida leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire chemical and other weapons of mass destruction.
"An al-Qaida member in custody told us he knew from others that Iraq had provided chem-bio ... training for al-Qaida members," a Bush administration official said on condition of anonymity.
Although there have been reports of senior-level contacts going back at least a decade between al-Qaida and Iraq, the extent of the relationship is unclear, the official said. He cautioned that information was coming from intelligence sources of varying reliability.
The new reports about links between Iraq and al-Qaida are part of a stepped-up campaign by the Bush administration to win domestic and international support for a possible invasion of Iraq, perhaps by late February.
President Bush is expected to make a forceful case in his State of the Union address tonight, a day before the Security Council meets again with the chief weapons inspectors.
Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, America's closest ally, will confer with Bush on Friday at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who also supports Bush's tough stand on Iraq, is due in the United States to meet with the president this week.
Despite increasing signs that Iraq is not cooperating with U.N. mandates, Democratic congressional leaders increased pressure on the Bush administration to come forward with concrete proof of the threat posed by Iraq and to exhaust diplomatic remedies before resorting to force.
"If we have proof of nuclear and biological weapons, why don't we show that proof to the world - as President Kennedy did 40 years ago when he sent Adlai Stevenson to the United Nations to show the world U.S. photographs of offensive missiles in Cuba?" asked Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
Powell, speaking on Sunday to foreign journalists, said administration officials have talked "a lot" about a "Stevenson moment," adding: "I would love to have that kind of material to present, and we are seeing what we can do, what we might find in the next couple of weeks."
But Powell cautioned that while "we do have a number of intelligence products that convince us that what we are saying is correct," he could not say whether they would be as persuasive to the Security Council as the dramatic 1962 presentation by Stevenson, then the U.S. envoy to the United Nations.
"Stevenson had a much easier task, I think. I mean, all he had to prove was that there were Russian missiles in Cuba, and voila! there were Russian missiles in Cuba."
However, Blix, in his distinctly undramatic and understated way, managed to leave a damning impression about Iraq's lack of cooperation. He cited "disturbing incidents and harassment" of his inspectors, and noted Iraq's refusal to allow private interviews of scientists and overflights by American-supplied U-2 spy planes.
"It is not enough to open doors," Blix told the council. "Inspection is not a game of catch as catch can."
He said his agency has information showing that Iraq produced purer forms of the deadly nerve agent VX than it has admitted and put the chemical into weapons. Iraq has failed to account for 6,500 warheads, representing 1,000 tons of chemical agents, the inspector said.
And the recent discovery of 16 empty chemical rocket warheads, Blix said, could be "the tip of a submerged iceberg." He said Iraq had repaired chemical equipment destroyed during previous inspections.
Blix said there are "strong indications" that Iraq has more anthrax than previously declared and that Iraq's claims that it destroyed about 2,200 gallons of the germ warfare agent are not convincing.
He said Iraq has supplied its military with two types of missiles - the Al Samoud 2 and the Al Fatah - both of which can hit targets beyond the 90 miles allowed by the United Nations, and that Iraq had modified the Al Samoud in defiance of a demand by inspectors.
Blix said Iraq has the ability to produce motors that would increase the range of missiles "significantly." Iraq has illegally imported chemicals and equipment that could be used in missiles, he added.
Blix also said that the recent discovery of 3,000 pages of documents on Iraq's banned nuclear programs may indicate that Iraq is hiding sensitive documents in the homes of officials.
Despite the negative findings of the Blix report, three veto-bearing members of the Security Council insisted that more time be allowed for inspections.
"The job has not been completed," said Zhang Yishan, China's deputy ambassador to the United Nations. "We share the view of many that this process has not been completed and more time is needed."
Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov said Moscow strongly supports calls for inspections to continue. And French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere urged that inspections "go forward ... with the objective of Iraq's verifiable disarmament," adding that it could be "several weeks" or "a few months." He said his view is shared by many members of the council.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also called for the inspectors to be given "a reasonable amount of time."