BAGHDAD, Iraq – In a busy day across Iraq, arms monitors fanned out on Tuesday to 10 missile, chemical and other potential weapons production sites, as U.S. diplomatic pressure mounted to possibly cut short the U.N. inspection plans.
A senior Iraqi official said Baghdad, looking to clear away obstacles to a clean U.N. report on inspections, may consider enlisting foreigners as witnesses for Iraqi weapons scientists who refuse to submit to secret U.N. interviews. Inspectors have complained about interviews monitored by Iraqi officials.
The Bush administration will make a bid for Security Council support for its tough line on Iraq on Wednesday, when Secretary of State Colin Powell is to present what is billed as fresh evidence of Iraqi deception of inspectors and of prohibited weapons programs in this country.
The U.N. teams, in hundreds of on-the-ground inspections since November, have found no such major violations of the U.N. ban on Iraqi chemical, biological and nuclear arms programs.
Powell "will not come up with anything new," editorialized the government newspaper al-Iraq on Tuesday. It likened the Bush administration to a "raging bull that can't see what's happening around it. The world won't compromise on the lies of Washington."
Baghdad government officials contend Powell's material will consist of fabricated reconnaissance photos and other questionable items, including what Iraqi presidential adviser Lt. Gen. Amir al-Saadi said would be "transcripts of telephone conversations by so-called Iraqi officials."
The inspectors, meanwhile, continued their intensive rounds of unannounced visits. Among other sites, they revisited the al-Rafah missile engine test installation southwest of Baghdad, a plant south of the capital that makes solid fuel for missiles, and a large chemicals complex, also to the south.
One U.N. team in white overalls and helmets, and toting clipboards, went to a water purification station in Baghdad's al-Doura district, where, among other things, they checked on tanks of chlorine used for water treatment.
Chlorine can be a component of chemical weapons. Inspectors are believed to be interested in determining whether all chlorine produced at chemical plants for water treatment is, indeed, used for that purpose.
The U.N. inspections resumed in November, after a four-year gap, to search for any weapons of mass destruction. During the 1990s, previous U.N. teams oversaw destruction of the great bulk of such weapons and their production programs in Iraq, under U.N. resolutions adopted after Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War.
Bush, repeatedly signaling impatience with the U.N. inspection process, has threatened a military attack on Iraq if, in Washington's view, it has not sufficiently disarmed.
Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair backs the tough U.S. line, but seems to favor -- more than Bush does -- relying on authorization of military action from the U.N. Security Council.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia, which has veto power in the council, expressed a go-slow sentiment again Monday, saying inspections seem to be working, "so far there is no need" for a new U.N. resolution condemning Iraq, and "the use of force is the most extreme case."
Arab leaders, meanwhile, are planning to move forward a summit conference -- to February from March -- to make a last-ditch call for Baghdad to cooperate more fully with weapons inspectors and possibly avert a U.S. war, regional diplomats told The Associated Press.
Cooperation will be the subject of talks this weekend between Iraqi officials and U.N. chief inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, who want concessions from Baghdad on interviews and other disputes in the search for forbidden arms in Iraq. Just days later, the inspectors will report to the Security Council on Iraqi cooperation -- a report that will influence the diplomatic debate over war and peace.
A senior Iraqi official indicated Baghdad is eager to reach agreements. "We shall do our best to make his (Blix's) visit successful," Maj. Gen. Hossam Mohamed Amin said Sunday. Such progress could forestall U.S. moves to short-circuit the inspection process.
The inspectors believe Iraqi scientists and other experts would be more candid about possible illicit weapons work if U.N. interviews were not monitored by Iraqi officials. But all potential Iraqi interviewees approached thus far for private interviews have refused unless a witness was present.
A group of members of the European Parliament who met Monday with presidential adviser al-Saadi suggested that non-Iraqis, instead, sit in on interviews.
"It is an interesting idea that we shall explore," al-Saadi later told reporters. But he added, "It's the choice of ... those who are being asked for private interviews."
Iraq and the U.N. inspectors also have not been able to finalize arrangements for American U-2 reconnaissance planes to fly in support of the U.N. inspection mission.
The Iraqis say they cannot guarantee the high-flying planes' safety if the United States and Britain don't halt combat patrols over southern and northern Iraq during such surveillance flights. Iraqi air defense forces will not be able to differentiate between neutral and hostile flights, they say.
In a separate development Monday, al-Saadi said Iraq and the United Nations have begun discussions on use of lower-flying reconnaissance drones -- unmanned aircraft -- in support of the U.N. teams. The drones would be supplied and operated by Germany.