WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Colin Powell will be backed by top CIA officials as he presents evidence to the U.N. Security Council to try to convince wavering allies and other nations that Iraq has hidden weapons of mass destruction and defied calls to disarm.
The evidence Powell will present on Wednesday, including intercepts of conversations between Iraqi officials, was culled from classified material, and CIA Director George J. Tenet and his chief deputy, John McLaughlin, are expected to accompany him.
In selecting evidence, which is also expected to include photographs, Powell and U.S. intelligence specialists are said to be taking care not to reveal more about their operations than they could safely show Iraq.
President Bush and his top national security officials have said repeatedly that Iraq will be forcibly disarmed if it does not comply with U.N. resolutions demanding that it reveal and give up weapons of mass destruction.
Arriving in New York on Tuesday, Powell met first with Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, whose government prefers a diplomatic approach to Iraq rather than using force to disarm President Saddam Hussein.
In Iraq, meanwhile, U.N. arms investigators found another empty chemical warhead, the 17th discovered since mid-January. The Iraqis have said the empty munitions found earlier were overlooked leftovers from the 1980s.
Saddam, in an interview broadcast Tuesday, denied his government has a relationship with Al Qaeda or has weapons of mass destruction. He said it would be impossible to hide such arms.
A retired British lawmaker, Tony Benn, conducted the interview Sunday in Baghdad for a yet-to-be-launched Arabic TV station with administrative offices in London.
"If we had a relationship with Al Qaeda, and we believed in that relationship, we wouldn't be ashamed to admit it," the Iraqi leader said.
The chief U.N. weapons inspectors, Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, are due to visit Baghdad for two days of meetings next weekend. Among their demands is access to Iraqi scientists and other officials without government "minders" auditing the interviews.
Blix said Tuesday at the U.N. that it was "five minutes to midnight" and Iraq must be forthcoming about its weapons during the visit. "I don't think that the end is there, that a date has been set for an armed action, but I think that we're moving closer and closer to it," Blix said.
Before and after Powell's speech Wednesday to the Security Council, he intends to meet with foreign ministers and ambassadors from most of the other members.
Besides Powell's presentation on Wednesday, all 14 other members -- and Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri -- are expected to make statements to the council in what could be a critical test of sentiment for using force to disarm Iraq.
Powell hopes his evidence will persuade the council that Iraq has caches of chemical and biological weapons, nascent nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs and ties to terror groups.
Powell also is expected to accuse Iraq of harassing scientists and others who have useful information and to criticize Iraq for denying the inspectors permission for flights by U-2 reconnaissance planes.
The emphasis on links to terror groups is designed to draw support from France, which views Al Qaeda as more dangerous than Iraq.
But British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has supported the Bush administration on using force as a last resort to disarm Iraq, failed again Tuesday to persuade a reluctant France to join a U.S.-led coalition.
President Jacques Chirac, during talks with Blair in France, said he remains adamantly opposed to a war without giving U.N. inspectors more time to search for outlawed weapons.
Also on Tuesday, Bush talked by telephone with Russian President Vladimir Putin for about 15 minutes.
Both France and Russia have veto power in the Security Council.