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.
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.
Blix tells U.N. Iraq refuses to comply on disarmament
U.S. says it may declassify evidence on banned arms; Chemical, germ arsenal at issue; No nuclear arms found, but ElBaradei wants time
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