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POLITICS: U.N. Divided Despite New U.S. ‘Evidence’ Against Iraq

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 5 2003 (IPS) - Despite a rash of new U.S. charges accusing Iraq of hiding its weapons of mass destruction, the 15-member U.N. Security Council remained divided Wednesday over the need for a military attack on Baghdad.

Armed with data from Iraqi defectors, spy satellites and telephone intercepts, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell made a theatrical presentation of his case against Baghdad in his unprecedented 80-minute address to the Security Council.

But he convinced very few members that a U.N.-sanctioned war on Iraq is justified. Britain, a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, was one of the few countries to remain a steadfast supporter of the United States.

French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin maintained his country’s tough line: continue with arms inspections but avoid war because of its possible devastating consequences.

France has already made it clear that it will exercise its veto on any U.N. sponsored resolution urging a military attack on Iraq – until and unless all peaceful options are exhausted.

”If this path were to fail and take us into a dead-end, then we rule out no option, including in the final analysis, the recourse to force as we have said all along,” said de Villepin.

But in such a case, he argued, several answers will to have to be clearly provided to all governments and to all peoples of the world to limit the risks and uncertainties.

”To what extent do the nature and scope of the threat justify the recourse to war?” de Villepin asked, and, “How do we make sure that the considerable risks of such intervention are actually kept under control?”

Of the 12 foreign ministers who addressed the Council on Wednesday, only de Villepin made concrete proposals to strengthen U.N. arms inspections, which resumed late last year following a U.S.-sponsored Security Council resolution to send inspectors back to the country after they were expelled by President Saddam Hussein in 1998.

The French ambassador said the number of inspectors should be doubled or tripled and the United Nations should open up more offices inside Iraq. Currently, there are more than 200 U.N. arms inspectors operating in the country..

De Villepin also called for the creation of a new U.N. body to keep under surveillance the sites and areas already inspected.

”Let us substantially increase the capabilities for monitoring and collecting information on Iraqi territory. France is ready to provide full support and it is ready to deploy Mirage V observer aircraft,” he added.

Asked about the French proposals, German foreign minister Joschka Fischer said they were ”interesting” and ”worth considering”.

Germany, which has said it will not participate in any military action against Iraq, is the current president of the Security Council but unlike the five permanent members – France, Russia, China, the United States and Great Britain – it does not hold a veto.

Asked about Powell’s presentation, Fischer said, ”I am not an expert on intelligence. The experts will have to look at it. We can then make up our minds. Political decisions should be based on facts and evidences.”

In a demonstration reminiscent of a high-powered courtroom drama, Powell not only accused the Iraqis of hiding their biological and chemical weapons but also warned delegates that if the United Nations did not act against Saddam, the world body would place itself in ”danger of irrelevance”.

”Leaving Saddam Hussein in possession of weapons of mass destruction for a few more months or years is not an option,” he said.

Security Council resolution 1441 unanimously adopted in November last year was clearly the one last chance for Iraq, added Powell.

”We must not shrink from whatever is ahead of us. We must not fail in our duty and responsibility to the citizens of the countries that are represented in this body,” he said.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw echoed Powell’s sentiments when he told the Security Council that ”this is a moment of choice for Saddam and the Iraqi regime à but it is also a moment of choice for this institution, the United Nations.”

In his rebuttal, Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed al-Douri said Powell’s presentation was ”full of assumptions and presumptions”.

”Weapons of mass destruction are not like an aspirin pill which you can hide in your pocket, ” he said. ”They are weapons that cannot be concealed easily.”

The telephone excerpts provided by Powell – allegedly recorded conversations of Iraqi military officials talking about ways to conceal weapons – could be easily concocted in this age of high technology, by ”any person, any time, anywhere”, al-Douri added.

Referring to the photographs of what Powell called weapons sites and mobile weapons factories, al-Douri asked why the information had not been given to U.N. arms inspectors for verification. The inspectors should have the chance to investigate the new charges when they visit Iraq next weekend, he added.

”They have already taken samples of plants, soil, air and factory remnants from vast areas, including cities, villages, factories and universities. But after an analysis of the samples, the inspectors have concluded there are no chemical or biological weapons in Iraq,” said al-Douri.

One expert called Powell’s speech “a dog-and-pony show”. U.S. officials have admitted that some of their ”evidence” comes from interrogation of detainees held incommunicado at Guantanamo Bay, said Phyllis Bennis of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies.

She said the Washington Post had quoted U.S. officials suggesting that detainees held in U.S. custody in Afghanistan, some of whom may now be in Guantanamo Bay, have been tortured or threatened with being sent to countries that routinely practice torture.

”Any information resulting from torture (or threat of torture) is not only illegally obtained but also of questionable veracity,” Bennis told IPS.

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