UNITED NATIONS – U.N. weapons inspectors bolstered the United States' case Monday that Iraq has failed to cooperate with them wholeheartedly, but also called for at least a "few months" to give the process time to avert a war.
The presentations to the U.N. Security Council, 60 days after inspections resumed following a four-year break, left the five veto-wielding members divided on how much more time Baghdad should be given to disarm.
As the Pentagon pushed ahead with war preparations, Secretary of State Colin Powell warned that Saddam Hussein has "not much more time" to comply and suggested the next step by Washington could come as soon as next week.
But China, Russia, France, Germany and Syria, which have said they currently see no cause for war, countered that Monday's reports support the need for inspectors to continue to do their work.
In his toughest criticism yet, chief inspector Hans Blix charged that Iraq has never genuinely accepted U.N. resolutions demanding its disarmament and warned that "cooperation on substance" is "indispensable" for a peaceful solution.
"Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament that was demanded of it," Blix told the council.
Speaking next, Mohamed ElBaradei, who heads the U.N. nuclear control agency, said inspections of 106 sites had turned up no evidence so far that Iraq was reviving its nuclear program. With Iraq's cooperation, he said, "we should be able within the next few months to provide credible assurance that Iraq has no nuclear weapons programs."
"These few months would be a valuable investment in peace because it could help avoid a war," ElBaradei said.
Diplomats noted the stark difference in tone between the two reports, Blix stressing Iraq's failure to cooperate and ElBaradei focusing on Baghdad's cooperation. Blix has always stressed that Iraq never produced a nuclear weapon, but it did make biological and chemical weapons and missiles, so he has a tougher job.
Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed al-Douri insisted his country "has actively cooperated" and "has expressed its sincere willingness to clarify any questions."
"We open all doors to Mr. Blix and his team. If there is something, he will find it. We have no hidden reports at all," al-Douri said.
In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan made public Monday, Iraq insisted it is "acting in good faith" with arms inspectors, giving them "effective and genuine cooperation" despite the "arbitrariness and bias" in the search.
The inspection reports came as President Bush planned to outline his case for possible war against Iraq in Tuesday night's State of the Union address.
If the United States seeks Security Council support for a war now, without giving inspectors more time, it will likely face opposition from China, Russia and France.
Powell said the administration would reveal new evidence "in the days ahead" of Iraq's connections to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.
Persuasive evidence that Iraq is rebuilding its weapons programs could unite the council behind a resolution authorizing military action. But failing that, the United States and Britain have said they would form their own coalition to attack Iraq if they deem it necessary.
"What we can't do is just keep kicking the can down the road in the absence of a change in policy and attitude" in Baghdad, Powell said at a State Department news conference, even though he acquiesced to additional U.N. inspections.
Powell and Annan said it still wasn't too late for a peaceful solution; however, they added that the onus was now on Iraq to quickly provide not just access but information and answers about its nuclear, chemical, biological and weapons programs.
"This is not going to be resolved peacefully through the U.N. process unless we have 100 percent cooperation from Iraq," said Britain's U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, whose country has been the staunchest U.S. ally.
In his report, Blix said Iraq failed to give inspectors evidence supporting claims that they had destroyed their weapons, such as the deadly nerve agent VX, anthrax and Scud-type missiles with a range of more than 90 miles.
Blix said his teams now believe Iraq's claims that it was unsuccessful in producing VX were untrue. "There are indications that the agent was weaponized," he said. Inspectors have also discovered a mustard gas precursor during recent inspections.
While ElBaradei asked for more time to carry out inspections, Blix made no such request in his 15-page report, delivered at an open council meeting.
But Blix's spokesman, Ewen Buchanan, said there were no differences with ElBaradei and that Blix had mapped out a program of future inspections, which he referred to in the report. "This is an update of an ongoing and continuing process of inspections. It is not the end of the road," Buchanan said.
Later, behind closed-doors, Blix dodged questions from ambassadors who wanted to know how much time he needed, diplomats told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Blix apparently complained privately to the council that too many Iraqi government minders were present during inspections and said Iraq was systematically hiding documents in the homes of government employees.
But ElBaradei apparently disagreed with that assessment, taking a softer tone than his counterpart, the diplomats said.
Under Security Council Resolution 1441, crafted by Washington and adopted by an unanimous council in November, inspectors don't need to prove Iraq is rearming.
Any false statements or omissions in Iraq's arms declaration, coupled with a failure to comply with and cooperate fully in the implementation of the resolution, would place Baghdad in "material breach" of its obligations -- a finding that could open the door for war.
Most of the Security Council believes that's a determination they must make based on the inspectors' assessments. The 15 council members will reconvene Wednesday to discuss the inspectors' reports and begin debate on Iraq. In the meantime, Blix and ElBaradei will update the council again on Feb. 14.
So far, ElBaradei said his teams had concluded that aluminum tubes Iraq had tried to import were earmarked for missile programs and not for a nuclear program, as the Bush administration claimed last fall. But he said the investigation continued.
Despite assurances from Iraq that it would encourage its scientists to submit to private interviews, no such interviews have taken place and Baghdad continues to block inspectors from using a U-2 reconnaissance plane that could be helpful in the hunt for weapons of mass destruction. Diplomats said Russia also offered a plane.
Blix noted that Iraq had provided new information "in the fields of missiles and biotechnology," But he said he would ask the Iraqis to stop tests of two types of missiles while inspectors determine their actual range and capabilities.