France proposed strengthening weapons inspections in Iraq, including tripling the number of inspectors and placing a full-time monitor in Baghdad to oversee the process, after hearing Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation Wednesday on Iraq's failure to disarm.

"The use of force can only be a final recourse," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told the U.N. Security Council. "We must move on to a new stage and further strengthen the inspections."

France has been the leading opponent of using military force in Iraq now and has suggested it might veto a resolution that could lead to war.

De Villepin said France would carefully review the evidence provided by Powell, but he emphasized that inspections were working and had resulted in major achievements.

Still, he acknowledged there was more Iraq could do to cooperate with a beefed-up inspections regime to avert war.

"Given the choice between military intervention and an inspections regime which is inadequate because of a failure to operate on Iraq's part, we must choose the decisive reinforcement of the means of inspection. This is today what France is proposing."

De Villepin said the council should work with the chief inspectors to find ways to strengthen their mission.

"Let us double, let us triple the number of inspectors. Let us open more regional offices. Let us go further than this, could we not, for example, put up, set up, a specialized body to keep under surveillance the sites and areas that have already been inspected? Let us very significantly reinforce the capacity for monitoring and collecting information in Iraq," he said.

De Villepin and other foreign ministers spoke from remarks prepared before Powell's presentation.

Powell, making his case that Iraq had defied all demands that it disarm, presented tape recordings, satellite photos and statements from informants Wednesday that he said constituted "irrefutable and undeniable" evidence that Saddam is concealing weapons of mass destruction.

"Iraq has now placed itself in danger of serious consequences," Powell told a special Security Council session attended by 13 foreign ministers.

Three months after Iraq pledged that it would disarm, Powell presented his evidence in an appearance that was televised live around the world. The Council members -- joined by Iraq's U.N. ambassador -- sat around a large circular table with Powell and listened attentively.

Of the 15 Council members, only the United States and Britain have voiced support for forcibly disarming Saddam.