Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday that Iraq's declaration of its weapons of mass destruction programs "totally fails" to meet U.N. Security Council requirements for full disclosure and constitutes "another material breach" of United Nations resolutions.
Iraq's "defiance" of the international community "has brought it closer to the day when it will have to face . . . consequences," Powell said. "The world will not wait forever." But he indicated that a final determination, and a decision on whether to disarm Iraq with military force, will not be made for several weeks.
During that period, Powell said, the United States and U.N. weapons inspectors will continue to examine the Iraqi weapons declaration submitted Dec. 7. Inspectors on the ground will intensify their efforts, he said, using intelligence the Bush administration and others are now prepared to hand over, and give "high priority to conducting interviews with scientists and other witnesses outside Iraq, where they can speak freely."
The administration also plans to sharply escalate its military presence in the Persian Gulf after the first of the year in a buildup involving 50,000 combat troops, aircraft and armor, as well as the activation of as many as 250,000 reservists, according to senior defense officials.
Nearly three months after President Bush first challenged the Security Council to move aggressively on Iraq, or the United States would act on its own, the planned military escalation and Powell's remarks seemed to indicate that the long walk-up toward direct confrontation with Baghdad was entering what White House spokesman Ari Fleischer yesterday called the "final stage."
U.S. officials have indicated that they regard Jan. 27, the date set by last month's U.N. resolution for inspectors to give the Security Council an overall status report on Iraqi cooperation, as a likely deadline for decisions on whether to launch an attack. Bush's State of the Union speech, marking one year since he first named Iraq as part of the "axis of evil," is scheduled to be delivered Jan. 28.
Powell spoke at a State Department news conference shortly after U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei told the Security Council that the Iraqi weapons document provided "relatively little . . . evidence" to prove Baghdad's claims to have no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons programs.
Powell said that "perhaps too much has been made of the term" material breach, a legal formulation he defined as meaning that "one party to a commitment has failed in meeting the terms of that commitment." The U.N. resolution passed unanimously by the Security Council last month said Iraq stood in breach of previous resolutions; the administration last month said that Iraqi firing on U.S. and British planes patrolling the northern and southern parts of that country also constituted a material breach.
While saying that "there is no question that Iraq continues its pattern of noncooperation, its pattern of deception, its pattern of dissembling, its pattern of lying," Powell indicated that Iraq still has time to change its ways. "If that is going to be the way they continue through the weeks ahead," he said, "then we're not going to find a peaceful solution to this problem."
"There is no calendar deadline," Powell said, "but obviously there is a practical limit to how much longer you can just go down the road of noncooperation and how much time the inspectors can be given to do their work."
Powell said he expected the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the IAEA to give regular reports to the Security Council "in the weeks ahead." Blix and ElBaradei said they would return to the council to update their assessment of the declaration as their review continued, before the overall summation on Iraqi cooperation with the first stage of inspections on Jan. 27.
Despite numerous public and private requests from the inspectors, the administration has thus far declined to share the intelligence it says proves Iraq possesses prohibited weapons programs. Powell said yesterday that "we are prepared to start doing that and will be in contact" with the inspectors.
In addition to intelligence on possible Iraqi chemical and biological weapons sites, a senior administration official said yesterday that names of individual Iraqis involved in the weapons programs the United States thinks should be interviewed outside Iraq would also be given to the inspectors.
The inspectors have been reluctant to begin such interviews until decisions are made on logistics and how to protect scientists and their families who do not want to return to Iraq. Blix told the Security Council yesterday that they are "an option," although "we could not take anybody out of Iraq without his or her consent." ElBaradei said that "if we find . . . that interviewing people outside of Iraq would . . . move us forward, we would not hesitate to make use" of the option if practical arrangements are worked out.
In their own remarks to reporters after yesterday's Security Council meeting, Blix and ElBaradei said that Iraq had cooperated in giving them access to inspection sites on the ground. But they said their preliminary assessment of the declaration was that "we still need much more cooperation from Iraq in terms of substance, in terms of evidence to exonerate themselves that they are clean."
While Iraq claims to have destroyed chemical agents either uncovered by or declared to previous inspection efforts that ended in 1998, the declaration provides no proof, ElBaradei said. "We need either to see documents, we need either people to speak to us and confirm that these things have been destroyed or we need even to see samples of what has been destroyed," he said.
Although Iraq acknowledged in meetings with inspectors this fall that it had attempted to procure aluminum tubes it said were for constructing legal rockets, "there is nothing in the report to give us details about this effort to procure," ElBaradei said. The administration has charged that the tubes were to be used in a nuclear weapons program that Iraq denies it has.
Sources said that in his closed-door presentation to the council, Blix cited Baghdad's failure to explain the fate of thousands of liters of anthrax and 550 mustard gas shells Iraq declared lost after the Persian Gulf War in 1991, or to account for the "production and weaponization" of the nerve agent VX and the destruction of large quantities of biological warfare agents and growth media.
Among the few acknowledgements of prohibited activities in the declaration, Blix said, Iraq had admitted that it was converting the Al Samoud short-range missile to a range slightly exceeding the 150-kilometer distance allowed by the United Nations.
He also said that there was some fresh detail, including the provision of Iraqi air force documents detailing Iraq's consumption of chemical munitions during the Iran-Iraq war and a description of "new projects" to replace guidance systems for surface-to-air missiles and a program to design a new liquid oxygen/ethanol missile propellant engine.
Neither the inspectors, nor other council members, were prepared to go as far as Powell in declaring that the document constituted a material breach by Iraq. Blix and ElBaradei said such a determination was up to the Security Council, as did Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, diplomatic adviser to the French president. British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said it was "deeply disappointing." But far from declaring the process over, Greenstock called on Iraq to demonstrate "proactive cooperation on the substance of what now needs to be cleared up" in the declaration.
Asked about the U.S. assessment, Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov said "it's up to any country to have its own view on any issue in the world affairs. But it does not mean that this is the view of the Security Council. . . . We have been hearing allegations that Iraq does continue its WMD [weapons of mass destruction] programs. We have heard it many times. We never saw any evidence that this is the case. We don't know whether this is true or not, and we want this to be verified by professions, by UNMOVIC and by IAEA."
Council member Syria, which joined in last month's unanimous resolution vote, criticized the decision to give a complete copy of the declaration to the council's five permanent members (the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France) while allowing the 10 temporary members only a sanitized version one-third the size of the original. Since his country had "no access" to the document, Syrian Ambassador Mikhail Wehbe said, it could not be "party to the conclusions" about it.
In Baghdad, Iraq denounced the U.S. assessment as "politically motivated" and an "obvious attempt to preempt" more serious consideration of the declaration by weapons inspectors.
"Quite obviously, they haven't even read it; they didn't even bother," Gen. Amir Saadi, a top adviser to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, said. Saadi said the strident tone of the U.S. statements indicated that the Bush administration was desperate. "We're not worried. It's the other party that is worried because there is nothing that they can pin on us."
Lynch reported from the United Nations. Staff writer Walter Pincus, and correspondent Peter Baker in Baghdad, contributed to this report.