UNITED NATIONS – Secretary of State Colin Powell warned the United Nations Security Council Monday that it "cannot shrink" from its duties should Iraq fail to meet its obligations to provide to U.N. weapons inspectors all the information it has about its weapons program.
Powell told foreign ministers on the 15-member council that Iraq has a responsibility to declare its weapons programs under Resolution 1441, passed unanimously by the Security Council in November.
"We cannot be shocked into impotence because we're afraid of the difficult choices ahead of us," Powell said.
"No matter how difficult the road ahead may be with respect to Iraq, we must not shrink from a need to travel down that road," Powell added.
The resolution, crafted by Washington and London, warns Iraq of "serious consequences," if it fails to comply with inspections.
The meeting comes just one week ahead of a report by weapons inspectors about Iraq's compliance in declaring weapons of mass destruction. Powell has been trying to convince Security Council members that military force may be necessary if the inspectors' reports indicate more stalling.
"I want there to be no mistake about this — time is running out. There is no question that Iraq continues not to understand the seriousness of the position that it is in," Powell told reporters after an hours-long meeting of the Security Council members.
"They know what they have, it's their obligation to come forward. And we cannot let them dribble this information and dribble these items out for as long as they choose to in an effort to thwart the international community," he said.
Over the weekend, Iraq announced that it had discovered four more empty chemical weapon warheads. That follows last week's discovery of 12 empty munitions last week. None were listed in Iraq's declaration last month that was supposed to detail all its WMD armaments.
Iraq also agreed Monday after two days of private talks with chief weapons inspector Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei that it will hand over more documents they may have overlooked and permit its scientists to answer questions from inspectors.
"Persons asked for interviews in private will be encouraged to accept," presidential adviser Amir al-Saadi told reporters in Baghdad. Al-Saadi did not indicate whether scientists would be permitted to leave the country for questioning.
Powell is facing a number of parties reluctant to go to war, including Germany, whose foreign minister took a strong stand against military action, saying it might have "negative repercussions," for the international fight against terrorism.
"We have no illusions about the brutal nature of Saddam Hussein's regime," Joschka Fisher said during a daylong Security Council meeting on counterterrorism. But, he said, "we are greatly concerned that a military strike against the regime in Baghdad would involve considerable and unpredictable risks for the global fight on terrorism."
However, Powell, who was in New York to address a U.N. forum on terrorism, cited Saddam's Iraq as a case in point why the Security Council may have to act.
"Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists or states that support terrorists would represent a mortal danger to us all," he said. "We must make the United Nations even more effective, we must build even closer international cooperation to keep these weapons out of the hands of terrorists."
The Security Council unanimously ratified a resolution on Monday seeking greater controls on nuclear, chemical and biological materials that could fall into the hands of terrorists.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Monday it was important to "wait and see what the inspectors actually say," then, but he emphasized that "time is running out for Saddam Hussein."
"This game of hide-and-seek has got to stop and there's got to be complete, active, positive compliance by Iraq with the obligations imposed on Iraq by this Security Council under Resolution 1441," he said. Straw spoke as Britain announced it was sending 26,000 troops to the Persian Gulf in preparation for possible military action against Iraq. Britain already has an 8,000-strong naval force in the Gulf.
Security Council members are expected to meet two days after Blix and his team present the findings of 60 days of searches on Jan. 27. Meanwhile, Powell is continuing one-on-one talks with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, Germany's Fischer and Igor Ivanov of Russia.
France and Russia are among the nations who prefer to extend diplomacy and lengthy inspections rather than to use military force.
In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on Monday dismissed reports that Iraq was now encouraging Iraqi scientists to take part in interviews with U.N. inspectors. "We're only interested in action after 11 and 12 years of watching Saddam Hussein give his word and not keeping it," said Fleischer.
Powell seized the occasion to urge foreign ministers to prepare for a response if the ministers conclude Iraq was withholding weapons information and refusing to make its scientists available.
"Everyone stressed the importance of disarmament and the hope that Iraq gets the message," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said after Powell met with Foreign Ministers Tang Jiaxuan of China, Dominique de Villepin of France and Luis Ernesto Derbez of Mexico.
But China's Tang pressed a go-slow approach, telling reporters Monday that the Jan. 27 report "is not a full stop of the inspection work but a new beginning."
"There's more work to do in terms of the inspection and it will take some time," Tang said, adding that the inspectors' work is "proceeding well."
The inspectors themselves herald the Jan. 27 report as only an interim account of Iraq's behavior over the past 12 years.
The Bush administration is not ruling out some delay in deciding what to do in unison with other members of the Security Council. And it also is not ruling out acting alone, or with a few allies, if the debate becomes extended.
Ivanov, in a speech to the council Monday, said: "We must be careful not to take unilateral action," and that the council should move in unison to deal with Iraq.
U.S. officials said Sunday they would welcome Saddam Hussein seeking exile, saying it could avert military action to topple the Iraqi president.
"To avoid a war, I would be personally — would recommend that some provision be made so that the senior leadership in that country and their families could be provided haven in some other country," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a televised interview.
"And I think that that would be a fair trade to avoid a war."
On Fox News Sunday, Rumsfeld said Iraq's Arab neighbors were urging Saddam to step down and go into exile in a bid to prevent war. "It would be a good thing for the world if he left," Rumsfeld said. But Saddam and Iraqi Cabinet ministers have said they would fight to the end.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.