UNITED NATIONS – Despite Secretary of State Colin Powell's forceful demonstration of Iraqi noncompliance with disarmament orders, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council remained divided Thursday morning over whether it was time to give up weapons inspections and go to war.
France, Russia and China, as well as many of the 10 temporary, non-vetoing Security Council members, said that if anything, Powell's presentation of evidence bolstered the case for letting the inspectors continue the search for Iraq's presumed weapons of mass destruction.
They also stressed the importance of this weekend's visit to Baghdad by inspection chiefs Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei.
"We very much hope that the trip to Iraq by chairman Blix and director-general ElBaradei will be fruitful," said China's foreign minister, Tang Jiaxuan, to the Associated Press. "So although the situation is quite tense at this moment, still I believe the peaceful resolution is still possible — you cannot rule that out."
On Feb. 14, Blix and ElBaradei are due to present the Security Council with another interim report on the progress of inspections. Their assessments of Iraq's cooperation will influence the Council's next move, including a possible second resolution calling for military action.
A senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the next 24 to 36 hours will be critical as Powell determines whether allies are willing to support a second resolution. The key, officials said, is France; if President Jacques Chirac insists on vetoing a second resolution, President Bush won't try to seek one.
But if Powell decides a resolution can be adopted, the next step would be to determine what it might take to get consensus in the council. One option is giving Saddam a deadline to comply, though officials said it was too soon to put that idea on the table.
The White House official said Bush has yet to give his national security team his requirements for a second resolution, a sign that more diplomacy is needed.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin didn't mention the possibility of a veto, but he did say "there is no need for a second resolution" because Resolution 1441, which was adopted Nov. 8 and gave Iraq a final opportunity to disarm, is still in effect.
He called for tougher inspections and monitoring of Iraq, proposing a tripling of the number of inspectors from 100 on the ground — a suggestion a U.S. official dismissed as useless.
De Villepin also demanded that Baghdad answer questions raised by Powell. He said that if there is an "impasse, we will not rule out any option, including the use of force" — but he stressed that must be the final option.
Powell noted that France indicated it might consider another resolution or the use of force.
"But there's a dispute between us, obviously, as to how much time should be given, and what full cooperation means," he said in an interview with CBS' 60 Minutes II.
Powell's anxiously awaited presentation to the Security Council used newly declassified intelligence, including satellite photos and radio intercepts, to support the U.S. case that Iraq has defied all demands that it disarm and has links to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
He warned that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction threaten the world and urged the council to move against Saddam or face "irrelevance."
While council members have previously called for Iraq to cooperate fully, Powell's presentation put even more pressure on Baghdad to produce information about its nuclear, chemical, biological and long-range missile programs.
Russia, China, Chile and other council members joined France in demanding that Iraq respond to Powell's allegations quickly.
"We are in agreement that the issue lies in more cooperation from Iraq," Chile's Foreign Minister Soledad Alvear Valenzuela told AP after council members discussed Iraq at a private lunch after the open council meeting.
"If there is a change of attitude on the part of Iraq, then we could find room for a political and diplomatic way out," she said. "Iraq's attitude is fundamental now to determine the final steps."
Blix headed to Europe Wednesday night en route to Baghdad, saying he planned to analyze Powell's report.
"I think it was interesting and I think that all the facts are desirable to be on the table," Blix told AP.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the success of Blix and ElBaradei's trip "will be of paramount importance."
Powell said the inspectors' reports to the council will be "very important" and will show whether "there has been any change in attitude." If not, he told 60 Minutes II, the Security Council "will have to make a judgment" — and Bush reserves the right to make a judgment as well.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.