WASHINGTON – Iraq will have been proven to be not cooperating with U.N. weapons inspectors by the end of January, Colin Powell said in a newspaper interview published Friday.
"We believe a persuasive case will be there at the end of the month that Iraq is not cooperating," the American secretary of state said to a gathering of German journalists, according to State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
U.N. weapons inspectors are to report on their progress in Iraq to the Security Council Jan. 27, at which point the Council may decide whether to continue the inspections or authorize military action.
"We'll have to look at that case at the time," Boucher quoted Powell as having said, "and then the Council will have to make a judgment as to what [to do], and the United States ... and each nation separately will have to make its own judgment as to what it should or should not do."
The text of the question-and-answer session was first posted Friday, translated into German, on the Web site of the Munich newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
In the interview, Powell downplayed the contention of some Security Council members that a new resolution might be needed to authorize the use of force in Iraq.
The U.S. has argued that Resolution 1441, passed in November, contains language authorizing military action if necessary, as well as mandating the current round of weapons inspections.
"We have always made clear that the U.N. will act without a second resolution," Powell was translated by Reuters as saying, "if we are of the firm opinion that Iraq still has weapons of mass destruction or wants to produce new ones."
In Washington, U.S. officials stated they wanted to hear the weapons inspectors' report on Thursday's discovery of 12 empty chemical warheads in Iraq before reacting publicly Privately, they were saying it was no "smoking gun."
The officials, at the White House Friday for a briefing from the U.N. teams, also said the discovery was no surprise, even though the inspectors had not been acting on the basis of new intelligence provided by the United States.
Weapons inspectors found the empty chemical warheads in a storage area 75 miles south of Baghdad on Thursday. Iraq said the warheads are old, were never used for chemical weapons and were reported to the United Nations as part of a required declaration.
Nonetheless, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said in his briefing Friday that the warheads were definitely not in the weapons declaration due last month.
"The chemical warheads found by the inspectors were not — not — on the declared list of weapons that Iraq issued just one month ago," he said. "The fact that Iraq is in possession of undeclared chemical warheads, which the United Nations says are in excellent condition, is troubling and serious."
Fleischer added that had they been included in the declaration, they would have raised concerns and been noticed.
"The burden is on [Iraq] to show the world what page it's on," he said.
In what might be considered a mild rebuke, Fleischer said the United States and Security Council nations — not weapons inspectors — would be the final judge of the seriousness of evidence gathered by inspectors.
"Under the U.N. resolution, Saddam Hussein has an obligation to disarm. It has become increasingly clear that he is not doing so," Fleischer said.
He also dismissed Saddam Hussein's claim Friday that Iraqi enemies would face "suicide" at the gates of his capital if an attack were launched.
"We are much less interested in Saddam Hussein's talking and much more interested in Saddam Hussein's disarming," Fleischer said.
Though Fleischer stopped short of labeling the discovery a "material breach," which Bush and the United Nations could use as justification for war, the press secretary said, "The fact that they now have been proven to possess undeclared chemical warheads doesn't get them out of material breach."
He added that Iraq is barred from possessing chemical weapons.
"Iraq's statement here is they forgot that they had these chemical warheads. That's what the general in charge of the program said yesterday, which raises the question of what other memory lapses are they having that have implications for their ability to bring harm to their neighbors and to our allies and to our interests," Fleischer said.
American allies continued to urge patience from Washington.
French President Jacques Chirac, whose country holds veto power on the Security Council, said he supports giving U.N. inspectors more time to determine whether Iraq still has weapons of mass destruction. Chirac added that another Security Council resolution might be required for military action.
Turkey's president said Friday his country could offer the United States only a limited contribution to military action in Iraq, even if the Security Council approved it.
British officials, whose country has been closest to the United States in the Iraq standoff, said there should be no rush to judgment.
The head of the U.N. nuclear agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, said it would be worth taking "a few more months" to search if that would prevent a war.
Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix said he still wasn't sure whether the warheads were mentioned in Iraq's 12,000-page weapons declaration, submitted last month, in which Baghdad was required to account for all components of its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs.
Blix is insisting on making a second, more comprehensive Security Council report on March 27, citing a 1999 U.N. resolution that created the current framework for weapons inspections.
U.S. officials have spent the week trying to derail plans for the second report, arguing it would preclude military action before then and that the 1999 resolution was superseded by November 2002's resolution authorizing the current inspections.
Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., says that if Iraq had not declared the warheads, they would be in "material breach" of U.N. resolutions — meaning there could be grounds for use of force.
"That is a big deal," Kyl said, adding that it would only be the tip of the iceberg. "There's a whole lot more we're never likely to find because it's too hard to find in a country as large as Iraq."
Former Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., disagreed and said the administration should respect the March deadline.
Biden said he saw little chance that in the next few months, Saddam would develop a nuclear weapon or pose a threat with chemical or biological weapons.
"So what's the immediate threat?" he asked. He added that Jan. 27 was never intended as a "drop-dead date."
State Department spokesman Boucher said the U.N. inspectors have indicated that Iraq has failed in a number of areas to cooperate fully with Security Council requirements.
"There's no point in continuing forever, going on, if Iraq is not cooperating," Boucher said.
The Pentagon continued its war preparations, saying it might dispatch three more aircraft carriers to the region.
By stationing carriers in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, Navy fighter-bombers would be in position to attack from three directions, complicating Iraq's effort to defend its airspace.
The administration believes that a U.N. blessing is not necessary and is prepared to take action without it if circumstances warrant, in concert with like-minded countries.
Fox News' Wendell Goler and the Associated Press contributed to this report.