UNITED NATIONS – Secretary of State Colin Powell is not bringing "a smoking gun" against Iraq to the United Nations next week but will have circumstantial evidence to make a convincing case that Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction, a U.S. official said Thursday.
The quality of evidence that Powell presents about Iraq's weapons programs and its terrorist links is considered critical to U.S. efforts to build international support and win Security Council approval for military action in Iraq.
"There are some countries, some elements of public opinion, that think the U.S. needs a smoking gun of some sort," the U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Well we don't have a smoking gun and Powell's not coming with it."
But Powell is bringing information that clearly shows that Iraq is in "material breach" -- or violation -- of the latest Security Council resolution, the official said. A U.N. resolution adopted last November gave Iraq a final opportunity to disarm and threatened serious consequences if it didn't.
Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri insisted in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday night that his government has eliminated all its weapons programs and has no links to Al Qaeda or any other terrorist groups.
In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Bush said he was sending Powell to the United Nations to "present information and intelligence about Iraq's illegal weapons programs, its attempts to hide those weapons from inspectors and its links to terrorist groups."
The United States is facing an uphill struggle, reflected in Wednesday's call by 11 of the 15 council members for more weapons inspections and Iraq's peaceful disarmament rather than a rush to war.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Sergey Lavrov, whose country is Iraq's most important council ally, reiterated Thursday that Moscow wants "undeniable proof" that Baghdad is continuing its programs to build weapons of mass destruction, "not suspicions."
At a State Department news conference on Wednesday, Powell said the evidence he intends to present on Feb. 5 would "fill in some of the gaps" between what the United States knew and what has been reported by U.N. weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei. "Some of it will be new information that was really not relevant to the inspectors' work," he said.