UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Secretary of State Colin Powell, relying on a stream of U.S. intelligence, urged the U.N. Security Council yesterday to move against Saddam Hussein because Iraq has failed to disarm, harbors terrorists and hides behind a “web of lies.”

His extraordinary presentation in the packed council chamber included satellite photographs, intercepted conversations between senior Iraqi officers and statements from informants that could make or break support for going to war with Iraq.

Russia, France, China and other council members skeptical of the need for a military confrontation said they would review the evidence and demand answers from Baghdad. Most said weapons inspections should continue, Iraq must immediately cooperate and diplomatic efforts should be sought to avert war.

France and Germany went further, calling for strengthening the inspections regime that was already toughened up in November under a Security Council resolution crafted by Washington and adopted by an unanimous council.

Three months after Iraq pledged that it would disarm, Powell presented his evidence to a high-level audience of foreign ministers and ambassadors in an appearance that was televised live to an anxious world.

“The gravity of this moment is matched by the gravity of the threat that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction pose to the world,” Powell said. “This body places itself in danger of irrelevance if it allows Iraq to continue to defy its will.”

While Powell spoke, Iraqi TV carried a day-old interview with Saddam.

Iraqi officials dismissed Powell’s case as a collection of “stunts” and “special effects” that relied on “unknown sources” and was aimed at undermining the work of the inspectors.

“What we heard today was for the general public and mainly the uninformed, in order to influence their opinion and to commit aggression on Iraq,” said Lt. Gen. Amir al-Saadi, an adviser to Saddam. Al-Saadi, who spoke in Baghdad, was personally vilified in Powell’s speech for deceiving inspectors.

Addressing the Security Council after all 15 members spoke, Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed al-Douri dismissed Powell’s charges that his country is hiding banned weapons and has links to terrorists.

Powell’s presentation was part of a diplomatic offensive that intensified with President Bush’s State of the Union address last week. The administration’s next move is to determine whether council members are willing to support a new U.N. resolution specifically authorizing force against Iraq.

Bush has said that the United States – with or without its allies – will forcibly disarm Iraq if it does not immediately comply with U.N. resolutions. But winning U.N. approval would mean the United States could share the costs of war and rebuilding Iraq and would be operating with the support of the international community.

A senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the next 24 to 36 hours will be critical as Powell gauges reaction. The key is France, one administration official said. If President Jacques Chirac insists on vetoing such a resolution, Bush won’t seek one.

For many at the United Nations, a visit to Baghdad this weekend by the chief weapons inspectors, followed by their next reports to the council on Feb. 14, will be critical for any decision on war.

Powell told CBS’ “60 Minutes II” in an interview that he would be watching the trip closely to see “whether they bring back anything of use for Security Council deliberations” next week. Powell said he is expecting to hear from the inspectors then “whether or not there has been any change in attitude” on the part of the Iraqis.

Britain, America’s closest ally, prefers a second resolution but would join forces with the United States against Saddam without one. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Powell made a “most powerful” case Wednesday. Saddam is “gambling that we will lose our nerve rather than enforce our will,” Straw said.

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