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Powell: Iraq in 'Material Breach'

Iraq's arms declaration "totally fails" to disclose its past and current activities regarding chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, leaving Baghdad in "material breach" of the U.N. disarmament resolution, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday.

Key U.S. allies agreed with the finding, which President Bush could use as a step toward war.

Powell stopped just short of threatening war with Iraq as he declared it in "material breach," or violation, of several U.N. Security Council resolutions and another calling for the Iraqi president to stop oppressing the Iraqi people.

In the weeks ahead, Powell said, the United States will "make sure Iraq knows that it will be disarmed one way or the other, and hope that the Iraqi people and Iraqi leaders besides Saddam Hussein realize that they are going to disarm, one way or the other."

Powell spoke at a State Department news conference shortly after Hans Blix, the United Nations' chief weapons inspector, and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the Security Council that Iraq's 12,200-page weapons declaration contained relatively little evidence of destructive weapons.

Baghdad's declaration, submitted two weeks ago, "totally fails" to meet a Nov. 8 Security Council resolution for an accurate and complete inventory of weapons, Powell said. "We are disappointed, but we are not deceived," he said.

There is no calendar deadline to disarm Iraq by force, Powell said, but added: "Obviously, there is a practical limit to just how long you can go down the road of noncooperation."

"There is no question that Iraq continues its pattern of noncooperation, its pattern of deception, its pattern of dissembling, its pattern of lying," Powell said. If that continues in the weeks ahead, "then we're not going to find a peaceful solution to this problem."

Saddam's top science adviser asserted on Thursday that weapons inspectors have examined every site of concern to U.S. and British intelligence and found no banned weapons.

"We're not worried," Amir al-Saadi said. "It's the other party that's worried, because there's nothing to pin on us ... There is nothing they don't know about Iraq programs. They know everything."

Iraqi guards prevented an inspection team from getting into a military guest house for 15-20 minutes on Thursday -- the second such snag for the U.N. teams.

Senior U.S. officials said President Bush was unlikely to decide whether to go to war until late January or early February. Speaking on condition of anonymity, they said he would use the time to bolster his case against Saddam with other members of the U.N. Security Council.

Bush is due to make a statement about Iraq on Friday during a meeting at the White House with U.N., European and Russian officials on a pathway to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Iraq's deputy U.N. ambassador, Mohammed Salmane, dismissed U.S. allegations of deceptions as baseless. "I would like to confirm that the Iraqi declaration is complete and comprehensive," he said.

In London, the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Saddam had his "finger on the trigger" of war. But, he also said "this disclosure does not, of itself, trigger military action."

In Paris, the French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin said that if Iraq reneges on its commitments to disarm, "the Security Council, on the basis of the report of Mr. Blix, should be called together to examine the array of options, including the use of force."

The French official also told France-Info radio that "if the international community decided to act, obviously, France would uphold its commitments."

Powell reiterated U.S. and British claims that Iraq had hidden chemical and biological weapons, as well as programs to develop nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. For instance, Powell said, Iraq had the capacity to produce 26,000 liters of anthrax, three times the amount it declared in the past and enough to kill several million people.

Powell insisted that the weapons inspectors should interview Iraqi scientists under conditions that guaranteed their safety and that of their families. And he said the Bush administration had begun sharing its intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs with the international inspectors.

 

Powell said the United States will continue to work with the U.N. Monitoring,Verification and Inspection Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency and consult with other Council members "to see what conclusions the Council members arrived at."

"But so far, with respect to complying with the conditions and terms of 1441 (the Nov. 8 resolution), Iraq is well on its way to losing this last chance."

On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, Rep. Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., said Saddam's "failure to act in good faith with the international community brings us closer to a war that no one wants, but only Saddam Hussein can prevent."

But Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said Iraq's incomplete declaration "is not enough to justify military force."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.