DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) – Secretary of State Colin Powell, citing Iraq’s lack of cooperation with U.N. inspectors, said yesterday he has lost faith in the inspectors’ ability to conduct a definitive search for banned weapons programs.
A U.S.-led war to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, however, is not imminent, Powell told business and political leaders, and he did not explicitly call for the inspections to end.
President Bush and heads of state were awaiting today’s report by the chief weapons inspector to the U.N. Security Council. The summary of their findings is intended to help determine whether Iraq has programs for chemical, biological or nuclear arms.
Bush will “listen with great interest” to what the inspectors have to say and will talk to the American people about it in his State of the Union address tomorrow night, going into detail about why Washington considers Saddam a threat to the United States and other nations, White House aides said.
Polls show that most Americans do not believe Bush has made his case for military conflict in Iraq, and the Senate’s top Democrat said yesterday, “We ought not be rushing to war.” South Dakota’s Tom Daschle also urged the White House to work harder to assemble an international coalition before deciding to go into Iraq.
Powell said in his address at the World Economic Forum in this Swiss resort that only a strong international response will deter Saddam from sharing his weapons with terror groups or using them himself.
Even though Iraq has responded to weeks of inspections “with evasions and with lies,” the secretary said, “We are in no great rush to judgment tomorrow or the day after, but clearly time is running out.”
In Washington, Bush’s chief of staff said that military force is “the last option, but it’s one that the president will be ready to use.”
And Andrew Card, raising the threat of a U.S. nuclear strike, warned: “Should Saddam Hussein have any thought that he would use a weapon of mass destruction, he should anticipate that the United States will use whatever means necessary to protect us and the world from a holocaust.”
Powell said Iraq should not be in doubt that “if it does not disarm peacefully at this juncture, it will be disarmed at the end of the road.”
U.S. officials have said war against Iraq could be a month or more away. They said they believe that extra weeks of unsuccessful inspections could weaken the resolve of key Security Council members – Russia, France and Germany – to maintain their opposition to military force against Iraq.
In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington’s staunchest ally on Iraq, said it should not take the inspectors months to determine whether Saddam’s government is cooperating fully.
“I don’t believe it will take them months to find out whether he is cooperating or not, but they should have whatever time they need,” said Blair, who meets with Bush on Friday at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said inspection team leaders may ask for additional time and resources to complete their assignment and should get that chance.
“We are talking about a question of weeks, about months, but not an infinite amount of time,” Solana said. “The contribution, the cooperation of Saddam Hussein with the inspectors, has to be proven very, very rapidly.”
The inspectors could say in their report that Iraq’s arms declaration is incomplete and its scientists are not cooperating with inspectors. But they have been unable to confirm U.S. contentions that Iraq is rearming, nor do they know what happened to Iraq’s stockpiles of banned weapons.
“Without Iraq’s full and active participation, the 100 or so inspectors would have to look under every roof and search in the back of every truck in a country the size of California,” Powell said in his speech.
After weeks of inspections, he asked, “Where is the evidence that Iraq has destroyed the tens of thousands of liters of anthrax and botulinum we know it had before it expelled the previous inspectors?
“What happened to the 30,000 munitions capable of carrying chemical agents. The inspectors can account for only 16.”
Reflecting his impatience with the process, Powell asked, “How much more time does Iraq need to answer those questions?”
Card said assuming that the inspectors’ report will find that Saddam has not cooperated properly, “that will then be the challenge. What can we do to encourage Saddam Hussein to cooperate fully?”
In other developments yesterday:
A newspaper owned by Saddam’s elder son said American and British troops will return home in “plastic bags” should they invade Iraq.
Inspectors made surprise visits to sites across Iraq, including the University of Mosul in the north, a military industrial plant, a medical institute and a research center dedicated to livestock diseases, according to the Information Ministry.
Allied jets patrolling the southern flight-interdiction zone over Iraq struck five communication relay sites after Iraqi aircraft violated the zone, the U.S. military said.
An Istanbul newspaper reported that Turkey’s military will let up to 20,000 U.S. troops pass through the country into northern Iraq in the event of war. The report follows visits last week by the U.S. military chief of staff and the U.S. general in charge of NATO, of which Turkey is a member. There was no immediate comment from Turkish officials or the Pentagon.
Kuwait’s foreign minister urged Saddam and his inner circle to quit power and go into exile to avert war. The minister also said Kuwait, which borders Iraq to the south, is obliged by U.N. resolutions to allow U.S. forces to launch military action from its territory if a decision is made to make war.
Bahrain, home of the U.S. 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf, announced it is deploying Patriot missile batteries to counter any possible long-range missile threats.