Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s brief to the United Nations on Iraq changed few minds in the early reaction from Middle Eastern leaders.
Among governments in the region, only Israel, a staunch U.S. ally, embraced Mr. Powell’s arguments. Most official responses among Arab government said the U.S. case still did not justify war without explicit U.N. sanction.
Osama El Baz, a top adviser to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, said the “situation in the region remained very fragile.”
“The prevalent feeling is that the process should be given more time to work,” said Mr. El Baz, who headed a delegation of Egyptian officials and scholars who met with reporters and editors at The Washington Times yesterday.
“It’s important to get as much international legitimacy and acceptance at this stage in determining what we do next,” said Mr. El Baz, who said Egypt has led the fight to rid the region of weapons of mass destruction, but remains suspicious of any move to oust a sovereign government.
Abdel Monem Said, director of the Al Ahram Center for Strategic Studies in Cairo, said Mr. Powell was the most effective spokesman that the Bush administration could have chosen to sell its case in the region.
“Secretary Powell has a lot of credibility and prestige in the region,” he said, “but it won’t be impossible for the Iraqis to challenge a lot of evidence he presented. It was interesting that the other big powers on the Security Council didn’t reject the U.S. case, but said now it should be put in the hand of the [weapons] inspectors.”
President Bush called Mr. Mubarak just before Mr. Powell began his address in New York yesterday, with Iraq a main topic of conversation between the two.
In Syria, the government daily Tishrin said the Powell presentation was a clear signal that the Bush administration already had decided to go to war, with or without U.N. backing.
“The proof that Powell [presented] is predictable, known and gives a clear signal that war is coming,” the government-owned paper said. “It aims to complete the U.S. war plan, which is in its final phase.”
Iran sharply criticized the United States for not sharing the intelligence and other data in the Powell report earlier with U.N. inspectors, noting that some of the information related to Iranians harmed by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction in the war between the two nations in the 1980s.
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, who met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London yesterday, said his country remained opposed to a war for fear it might spread throughout the region, but added that Iran was not backing Saddam’s regime.
“Iran is basically against war and is not going to support either side. We are going to look out for our national interests,” Mr. Kharrazi told reporters.
By contrast, Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a press briefing in Jerusalem that Mr. Powell had “exposed the great dangers that emanate from [Iraq] to the region and to the world.”
Asked if Mr. Powell had presented any “smoking gun” of Iraqi misdeeds, Mr. Netanyahu replied, “One gun? I saw many.”
Mr. Netanyahu said the intelligence provided by Mr. Powell proved that “Saddam is willfully violating U.N. resolutions and trying to develop stealth biological weapons, chemical weapons and nuclear weapons.”