- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

NEW YORK Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix warned Baghdad yesterday that it is "five minutes to midnight," as U.S. officials said they were winning support for their demand that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein give up all banned weapons without delay.
A majority of U.N. Security Council members "are coming around on our point of view," said an American official a day before Secretary of State Colin L. Powell delivers a much-anticipated summary of U.S. evidence that Saddam is hiding weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. Blix, who will return to Baghdad this weekend for what may be his last meeting with Iraqi officials, told reporters in New York that he was "pleading for Iraq to enter cooperation on substance" with his inspection teams, which have been in the country since December.
"I don't think the decision [on war] is final. I don't think … that a date has been set for an armed action. But I think we are moving closer and closer to it. Isn't there five minutes to midnight in your political assessment?" he asked rhetorically.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, writing in the Times of London today, said the prospect of a peaceful outcome in the Iraq crisis was diminishing by the day.
"I have hoped and prayed all along that this crisis could be resolved by Iraq's cooperation with weapons inspectors. But as each day passes without an Iraqi response to the inspectors' outstanding questions, so the prospect of a peaceful outcome diminishes," Mr. Straw wrote.
"It seems increasingly clear that Saddam will never voluntarily relinquish his weapons," he added.
The march to war in Iraq also became the center of attention in Canberra, Australia, today as the upper house of Parliament passed a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister John Howard for his handling of the crisis, illustrating the deep divide in Australia over joining any war.
Mr. Howard, a staunch U.S. ally, has come under attack for sending troops and approving fighter jet deployments to join U.S. and British forces in the Gulf preparing for a war on Iraq before the U.N. process has run its course.
Opposition and minor parties, who hold the balance of power in the 76-seat Senate, joined forces to pass the upper house's first vote of no confidence in a government or leader in its 102-year history.
It was a symbolic gesture that has no legislative clout.
Hours before Mr. Blix spoke, inspectors in Iraq stumbled upon another warhead adapted to deliver chemical weapons. The find brings to 17 the total number of warheads discovered, though there has been no sign of the munitions to load in them.
Iraq says all weapons stores have been destroyed but has offered no credible proof, Mr. Blix said. His increasing frustration has been a factor in the growing support among Security Council members for the tough U.S. stand.
Mr. Powell hopes to build on that support today with a 90-minute briefing to the council, where he will be joined by CIA Director George J. Tenet. He also is scheduled to meet individually with 10 foreign ministers, starting with Germany's Joschka Fischer.
The secretary held talks with his Chinese counterpart, Tang Jiaxuan, after arriving in New York yesterday.
U.S. officials said the final draft of Mr. Powell's presentation was still in the works last night, even after he went over the text with Mr. Tenet and John D. Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
All council members are "looking forward" to hearing new information from Mr. Powell that would "address their concerns, and we think the presentation will go a long way to doing that," one U.S. official said.
"The tide is shifting in our direction in terms of the need for Iraq to disarm immediately," he said. "The diplomatic window is closing on Baghdad."
Diplomatic sources in New York said that several leaders from Central and Eastern Europe were preparing a letter in support of the United States similar to an opinion article by eight European heads of state and government that appeared in U.S. and European newspapers last week.
The sources also said Britain was drafting a new Security Council resolution to complement Resolution 1441 adopted unanimously Nov. 8 that warned of "serious consequences" if Iraq does not come clean.
Although the text has not yet been shared with the United States, a U.S. official said American diplomats have made clear to their British colleagues that Washington will support a new document only if it gives Iraq a specific deadline within a few weeks and warns of "serious consequences" if Baghdad fails to meet it.
Mr. Blix said the U.S. pressure, including its military buildup in the region, undoubtedly had encouraged Baghdad to cooperate with U.N. inspectors seeking chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, as well as the long-range missiles to deliver them.
He said the inspections would not take a lot of time if Iraq were to offer "active cooperation." He declined to answer questions about how long it would be worthwhile to extend the inspections if Iraqi cooperation remained at the present level.
"I would welcome more time [for inspections], but let's not joke. We all know the situation is serious," Mr. Blix said.
He and Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the U.N.-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will attend the presentation today and will be back from their visit to Baghdad to brief the Security Council on Feb. 14.
A British news report, released Monday, accused Iraqi intelligence of bugging U.N. offices and hotel rooms in Iraq, intimidating inspectors, and hiding documents in civilian sites, such as mosques, homes and hospitals.
Mr. Blix said his inspectors had not found any such devices during regular sweeps but that they acted on the assumption that they were being monitored in Iraq as well as in their U.N. offices in New York.
"I assume they are there," he said of such bugs.
There are about 100 inspectors in Iraq from the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, plus 150 support personnel, including interpreters, helicopter crews, computer and lab technicians, medical teams and clerical workers.
The IAEA has about a dozen inspectors in the country.

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