NEW YORK – Foreign ministers from all corners of the globe took turns Friday reacting to reports from international chief weapons inspectors, who said that while Iraq is cooperating more than usual in the disarmament process, there is still much work to be done.
Chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei gave their reports to the U.N. Security Council in New York on Friday.
The reports are expected to be a deciding factor in whether the United States -- with or without the support of its allies -- will use military force to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and to force him to disarm.
"The threat of force must remain," U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said following the report. "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."
Many expected Friday's events 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 over a new resolution that might call for military action.
Germany, which does not have veto power, also opposes immediate military action.
French Foreign Minister Dominique 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."
He said the use of force would be "fraught with risk" for people and the region, and that "it should only be envisioned as a last resort."
"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."
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.
The Blix-ElBaradei report "shows very clearly that in Iraq, a unique potential has been established in this area of inspections and monitoring," said Igor Ivanov, the foreign minister of Russia, which supports the Franco-German initiative to boost the number of weapons inspectors and give them more time for searches.
"There is movement in the right direction and we cannot ignore that," Ivanov said.
"Force can be resorted to, but only when all other remedies have been exhausted. As can be seen from the discussion today, we have not yet reached that point, and I hope we will not reach that point."
Syria's Foreign Minister, Farouq al-Shara, said it seems as if "substantial progress has been made by the inspectors," and that "we are for a peaceful settlement."
Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, while urging a political solution, said "Iraq must implement the relevant Security Council resolutions … we urge the Iraqi side to recognize fully the importance and urgency of inspections and provide more cooperation in a more proactive way."
He also said the Security Council "has to step up its effort for inspections" and handle the Iraq matter appropriately in order to maintain its credibility.
But the foreign ministers of Spain and the United Kingdom supported the U.S. stance that Saddam isn't living up to his disarmament promises and isn't being as forthcoming as he should with weapons inspectors.
"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.
"Let's just remind ourselves that Iraq is the only country in the world that has launched missile attacks on five of its neighbors" and has attacked and killed hundreds of his own people, Straw said. "We all agreed upon the importance of 1441 and it is striking that no one who has spoken so far … has suggested for a second that Iraq is fully and actively complying with the obligations we imposed on them."
Straw said the Security Council members need to "hold our nerve."
The international body's responsibility "will not get any easier, but much harder," he said. "The issue is not just with Iraq, but how we deal with proliferations throughout the world."
Prior to Straw's speech, Spain's foreign minister, Ana Palacio, also stepped up to bat for the U.S. position.
"What we don't need is more inspections … the more noncompliance there is from Saddam Hussein, the more radically the international community has to act," she said.
"We would be sending a message of weakness on the part of this council," if 1441 is not upheld, she added, and therefore, "this council would lose its credibility."
Spain's ambassador to the United States, Javier Ruperez, told Fox News that "the bottom line is, we cannot go on with this charade" and that inspectors have had enough time.
The United States says Iraq has weapons of mass destruction in violation of several U.N. resolutions, an assertion denied by Baghdad. 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.
"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.
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.
"Nowhere did the world receive any comfort today in New York that Saddam Hussein has shown the world he has disarmed -- quite the contrary," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday afternoon, calling Saddam's disarmament claims a "mirage."
Powell had plans to meet with all 14 members of the Security Council on Friday. His diplomacy efforts will focus on the foreign ministers of France, Russia and Germany. France and Russia, with their power to veto a new U.N. resolution to authorize force, held the key to the Bush administration's effort to rid Iraq of any weapons of mass destruction.