UNITED NATIONS – In reports that could determine whether the U.S. goes to war with Iraq, chief U.N. weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei told the Security Council Friday that Saddam Hussein is making progress in disarming his nation, but still has a long way to go.
Afterward, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell reminded council members that "what we need is immediate, active, unconditional, full cooperation on the part of Iraq. What we need is for Iraq to disarm."
Powell said recent moves by Iraq have been designed to appear helpful to inspectors and in compliance with disarmament demands. But he dismissed those measures as "tricks that are being played on us."
"More inspections -- I am sorry -- are not the answer," Powell told the council.
Later in the day, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said his country will not support a second U.N. resolution authorizing immediate military force to disarm Saddam. The announcement came after his call for more weapons inspections drew rare applause from his Security Council colleagues.
France, which can veto any resolution, has been in the forefront of opposition to the U.S. and British push for immediate action.
Blix earlier had told the council that inspectors had not found "any such weapons" of mass destruction, "only a small number of empty chemical munitions, which should have been declared and destroyed."
But he added: "Another matter, and one of great significance, is that many proscribed weapons and items are not accounted for. One must not jump to the conclusion that they exist. However, that possibility is also not excluded."
He said if those materials exist, Iraq should turn them over for destruction.
"If they do not exist, credible evidence to that effect should be presented," Blix said.
Many expected the event would lead to a potentially divisive showdown between the U.S. and Great Britain and France, Russia and China, all of which would have veto power of a new resolution that might call for military action.
Germany, which does not have veto power, also opposes immediate military action.
Foreign ministers from all countries later took turns reacting to the reports - many saying the inspectors are making progress, but a few saying the Security Council has to make a decision about Iraq with an iron fist.
Blix, who began speaking shortly before 10:30 a.m., said weapons inspectors have conducted 400 searches of 300 sites.
"Access to sites has so far been without problem," Blix said, adding that, "in no case have we seen convincing evidence that the Iraqis knew in advance that inspectors were coming." U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell last week told the Security Council there was evidence the Iraqis knew of the inspectors' moves.
Pointing to one case that Powell highlighted -- in which he used satellite photos to show trucks removing banned weapons prior to inspections at an Iraqi munitions depot -- Blix said: "The reported movement of munitions at the site could just as easily have been a routine activity."
The inspections, Blix said, have been "effectively helping to bridge the gap" in knowledge of Iraqi arms but added that "we do not know every cave and corner."
He said more than 200 chemical and 100 biological munitions or items have been found and destroyed and that there are a lot of prohibited materials that Iraq still has not accounted for.
Iraqi officials turned over papers on anthrax, VX and missile production, among others topics, last week. "Although no new evidence was provided … the presentation of the papers could be indicative" of a better Iraqi "attitude" toward inspections, Blix said.
He said he hopes Iraq will provide a list of scientists and other people who worked to manufacture or destroy banned weapons so that inspectors may question them.
"They evidently need to work fast and effectively to convince us and the world that it is a serious effort," Blix said.
Blix said private interviews with three Iraqi scientists had "proved informative," but there have been none since Feb. 9. Up until earlier this month, all scientists insisted on being accompanied by an Iraqi official or having their interviews tape-recorded.
"I hope this will change," Blix said. "We feel that interviews conducted without any third party present and without tape recording would provide the greatest credibility."
ElBaradei then stepped up to the plate.
"We have, to date, found no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear or nuclear-related activities in Iraq," said the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The chief nuclear weapons inspector had said previously that he was concerned about "the questions of aluminum tubes, the question of importation of magnets, and the question of importation of carbon fiber," as well as reported imports of uranium.
These materials could potentially be used in centrifuges to make fuel for nuclear warheads.
ElBaradei said Friday that the IAEA is still studying many documents detailing these materials, but so far it appears that the materials are being used for non-nuclear purposes.
Earlier in the day, Saddam issued a presidential decree in Baghdad banning the importation or production of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
"All ministries should implement this decree and take whatever measures are necessary and punish people who do not adhere to it," the presidential order read.
ElBaradei called this "a step in the right direction for Iraq."
"In the coming weeks, IAEA will continue to expand its inspection capabilities in a number of ways," he said, including increasing the number of surprise inspections, boosting the number of inspectors, support staff and analysts and intensifying the number of technical meetings and interviews with Iraqi personnel both inside and outside Iraq
There will also be more real-time monitoring of dual-use equipment, he said, and arms experts will continue searching for more traces of nuclear activity.
"If we do not possess such weapons, how can we disarm ourselves?" asked Mohammed Al-Douri, Iraqi's ambassador to the U.N. "Indeed, how can we disarm when they do not exist?"
He said "continuing, proactive cooperation with inspectors" is the best way to continue the disarmament process.
"We do not … want failure for the inspection work," Al-Douri said.
France's de Villepin said the international community cannot doubt its common commitment to make sure Saddam is disarming, but he reiterated that inspections are the way to do this.
"The option of inspections has not been taken to the end; it can provide an effective end," de Villepin said. "Real progress is emerging."
Speaking about U.S. claims that links can be found between Iraq and Al Qaeda, de Villepin said, "Nothing allows us to establish such links."
"No one today can claim that the path of war will be shorter than the path of inspection" nor that it will lead to a "safer, more just, more stable world … for war is always the sanction of failure," de Villepin said. "The use of force is not justified at this time."
But the foreign ministers of Span and the United Kingdom supported the U.S. stance.
"Iraq's material breaches, which we spelled out on the eighth of November, are still there," said British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, referring to when the group passed Resolution 1441. Saddam needs to bring about a "dramatic and immediate change" to avoid war, he said.
The French minister called for the ministers to convene again on March 14 for another update.
Several allies, including France, Germany and Russia, have called for giving the inspectors more time, an idea opposed by the Bush administration.
"Resolution 1441 was not about inspections. Let me say that again: Resolution 1441 was not about inspections. Resolution 1441 was about the disarmament of Iraq," Powell said.
"We cannot wait for one of these terrible weapons to show up in our cities and wonder where it came from … this is the time to go after the source of this weaponry."
President Bush has said war is his last resort to disarm Saddam while making it clear that time is running out on any other options.
Bush has said he would welcome a new U.N. resolution to bolster his case, but says he has no qualms about confronting Saddam without one.
Fox News' Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.