The United States yesterday pronounced Iraq in “material breach” of the latest U.N. resolution demanding its disarmament and said that, although not a trigger for war, it increases the need of military action.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Baghdad’s 12,000-page declaration of its weapons programs, which was supposed to be “accurate, full and complete,” in the language of Resolution 1441, “totally fails to meet the resolution’s requirements.”
“There is no question that Iraq continues its pattern of noncooperation, deception, dissembling, lying, and if that is going to be the way they continue through the weeks ahead, then we’re not going to find a peaceful solution to this problem,” Mr. Powell told reporters at the State Department.
He said the Iraqi report was “a catalogue of recycled information and flagrant omissions” of activities with anthrax, nerve gas, chemical agents, missiles and nuclear weapons.
“It should be obvious that the pattern of systematic holes and gaps in Iraq’s declaration is not the result of accidents or editing oversights or technical mistakes,” he said. “These are material omissions that, in our view, constitute another material breach.”
At the United Nations, chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei agreed with the Bush administration that “an opportunity was missed in the declaration to give a lot of evidence.”
Mr. Blix, who is in charge of the missile, biological and chemical team, told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council that he was not convinced of Iraq’s assertions that it has no weapons of mass destruction.
“We still need much more cooperation from Iraq in terms of substance, in terms of uncovering of evidence, to exonerate themselves that they are clean from weapons of mass destruction,” said Mr. ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“If they come with additional information, our task will be much easier and shorter,” he said.
But the inspectors, as well as the other council members, except Britain, stopped short of calling Iraq’s failure to provide a full account of its weapons capabilities “material breach.”
The French U.N. ambassador, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, said Baghdad’s declaration “doesn’t lift the doubts about the possible continuation by Iraq of prohibited activities since December 1998,” when U.N. inspectors left the country and did not return for four years.
The Russian ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, said that it was not up to one member, but to the entire Security Council, to declare a “material breach” and said that the inspectors should not be “pushed into a direction that they themselves do not believe is advisable.”
“It is up to one country to have its own view on any issue in world affairs. But it does not mean that this view is the view of the Security Council,” Mr. Lavrov said.
“We don’t have any evidence that Iraq is telling a lie,” he said. “We also don’t have evidence that it is telling the truth.”
Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, meanwhile, dismissed accusations that Baghdad’s report is incomplete but, nevertheless, offered to “make clarifications,” if necessary. He repeated his government’s assertion that it does not possess weapons of mass destruction and said that “the United States is looking for pretext for an attack.”
“I can reassure you the report is complete,” he said in a French radio interview. “If need be, Iraq is ready to make clarifications.”
Mr. Powell said that the Bush administration, whose challenge now is to convince fellow Security Council members that the omissions in the report amount to “material breach,” is prepared to start sharing intelligence about secret sites and activities that Baghdad has not disclosed.
The secretary offered the most detailed account to date of Iraq’s failure to account for specific weapons capabilities.
“Before the inspectors were forced to leave Iraq [in 1998], they concluded that Iraq could have produced 26,000 liters of anthrax,” he said. “That is three times the amount Iraq had declared. Yet, the Iraqi declaration is silent on this stockpile, which, alone, would be enough to kill several million people.”
Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s “regime also admitted that it had manufactured 19,180 liters of a biological agent called botulinum toxin,” Mr. Powell said. The U.N. inspectors later determined that the Iraqis could have produced 38,360 additional liters, but the declaration is “silent on these missing supplies,” too, he said.
The Iraqi report “also says nothing about the uncounted, unaccounted precursors from which Iraq could have produced up to 500 tons of mustard gas, sarin gas and VX nerve gas,” Mr. Powell said.
In addition, he noted, Iraq “has failed to provide adequate information about the procurement and use” of high-strength aluminum tubes that can be used “to enrich uranium in centrifuges for a nuclear weapons program.”
Mr. Blix and Mr. ElBaradei also mentioned the anthrax and the aluminum tubes as examples of the gaps in the declaration, which Iraq handed over to the inspection team on Dec. 7.
“We are disappointed, but we are not deceived,” Mr. Powell said. “This time the game is not working.”
Although the United States is “doing everything we can to avoid war,” if war comes, “it will be done in a way that would minimize the loss of life” and would be “accomplished in as swift a manner as possible,” he said.
“There is no calendar deadline, 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,” he said. “This situation cannot continue.”
Senior U.S. officials said that President Bush was unlikely to decide until late January or early February whether to go to war.” He was expected to make a statement on Iraq today, during a meeting at the White House with U.N., European and Russian officials on the Middle East peace process.
Mr. Powell urged the U.N. inspections to “give high priority to conducting interviews with scientists and other witnesses outside of Iraq, where they can speak freely.” He added that specific names “will be made available” to the Iraqi government, which is “required to provide these individuals for interview.”
Betsy Pisik contributed to this report from New York.