WASHINGTON -- New evidence of an Iraqi military buildup has helped the United States beat back an effort to lift United Nations sanctions against Baghdad, senior administration officials said yesterday.
They said the Clinton administration had shared intelligence data, including satellite photos, with other Security Council members to show that President Saddam Hussein has been rebuilding factories that could produce chemical weapons or missiles as well as integrating stolen Kuwaiti missiles and armored vehicles into the Iraqi army.
The photos also show that the Iraqi leader has spent billions on new presidential palaces while pleading poverty as a reason for allowing Iraq to resume oil sales, as France and Russia have urged.
The officials said that Madeleine K. Albright, Washington's delegate to the United Nations, returned Friday from a weeklong mission to seven countries certain that the United States had 10 votes, enough to maintain the current sanctions.
France and Russia, Iraq's closest partners before its invasion of Kuwait in 1990, supported quietly by China, have argued for nearly a year that Iraq is on the verge of complying with Security Council demands to eliminate key weapons programs and therefore should have the legal right to export its oil on the open market.
The United States and Britain have strongly disagreed, insisting on maximum Iraqi compliance with U.N. demands without spelling out exactly what Mr. Hussein must do if he wants to sell oil.
But over the past few months, support for the U.S.-British position has waned. A number of Security Council members, eager to do business with Iraq and to relieve the suffering of the Iraqi people, have become convinced that the Security Council should consider easing the ban on oil sales.
In anticipation of a French-Russian initiative in the Security Council within the next several weeks, Ms. Albright held face-to-face meetings or telephone conversations with nine Security Council members.
She was accompanied by a U.S. intelligence official who displayed for foreign officials an array of satellite photos showing that Mr. Hussein has poured billions of dollars into rebuilding Iraq's military and governmental infrastructure, administration officials said.
One photograph showed that Mr. Hussein had rebuilt the country's largest chemical weapons production plant, which was destroyed in the Persian Gulf war in 1991. Another set of photographs showed that Iraq had rebuilt two major ballistic missile factories, one near Mosul and the other in southern Iraq.
Ms. Albright said that if Iraq received large amounts of money from selling oil, and if international inspectors were not on the ground in Iraq to monitor weapons programs, the country would be able to resume full-scale chemical weapons production within two years and ballistic missile production within one year.
Another set of photographs showed some of the lavish palaces and villas that Mr. Hussein has built for himself and his senior aides, including one palace near Lake Tharthar that is eight times bigger than the White House, and another complex near Mr. Hussein's birthplace in Tikrit, which includes a huge sports center for use by the Iraqi leader's family.
"We don't have any problem with a leader of a country building palaces," Ms. Albright told her hosts. "But we do have a problem with a leader doing that and then crying crocodile tears for his people."
The United States estimates that since the end of the Persian Gulf war, Mr. Hussein has built 48 residences or buildings for his ruling elite at an estimated cost of between $1.5 billion and $2 billion.
Other intelligence reports cited by Ms. Albright included evidence that Iraq has tried as recently as late last year to import key components for making missiles, including ammonium perchlorate for solid rocket propellant and gyroscopes for missile guidance systems.
Ms. Albright also noted that Iraq has refused to account for more than 600 Kuwaitis missing since the gulf war, that it has destroyed at least 700 hamlets in the mostly Shiite south since the end of the war and has imposed an economic blockade of parts of the Kurdish north for more than three years.
The Clinton administration's campaign coincides with reports last Monday by a U.N. inspector, Rolf Ekeus, that Iraq has concealed evidence of a biological weapons program that sought to develop tuberculosis, cholera and the plague.
On April 10, when the Security Council will meet on the sanctions, Mr. Ekeus is due to give a six-month report to the United Nations on whether Iraq is cooperating fully with the commission overseeing the destruction of its weapons programs.
At the United Nations on Tuesday, Iraq's representative, Nizar Hamdoon, insisted that most members of the Security Council supported lifting the oil embargo, calling Ms. Albright's mission "desperate."
Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev has said repeatedly that the Security Council had to ease sanctions on Iraq, telling the council in New York in October that it "must be ready to take 'yes' for an answer if Iraq really complies with all of the demands in all of the resolutions."
Last Wednesday, at the opening of France's interests section in Baghdad, Jean-Francois Nodinot, the new head of the mission, said: "After the lifting of the embargo, we hope Iraq will be a prime partner. But first we have to solve the problem of sanctions."