NEW YORK – Foreign ministers from several nations will meet in a potentially divisive showdown at the United Nations Friday to receive a report from chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei on whether Saddam Hussein is disarming.
In Baghdad, the Iraqi dictator issued a presidential decree Friday banning the importation or production of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. The decree was issued, apparently, in response to repeated U.N. demands that Iraq outlaw weapons of mass destruction.
"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, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, will report on the two-month search for evidence of Iraqi nuclear weapons programs. Blix will report on the hunt for Baghdad's biological and chemical weapons.
Blix's report will be crucial in determining whether the Security Council calls for more arms inspections or supports U.S. calls for force against Iraq.
"I'm optimistic that free nations will show backbone and courage in the face of true threats to peace and freedom," President Bush said Thursday. "I believe when it's all said and done, free nations will not allow the United Nations to fade into history as an ineffective, irrelevant, debating society."
The United States says Iraq has weapons of mass destruction in violation of several U.N. resolutions, an assertion denied by Baghdad. The president has said war is his last resort to disarm Saddam while making it clear that time is running out on any other options.
But several allies, including France, Germany and Russia, have called for giving the inspectors more time, an idea quashed by the Bush administration.
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.
The U.S. president has urged skeptical allies to "show backbone and courage" and stand up to Saddam. He said the United Nations must help him confront the Iraqi leader or "fade into history as an ineffective, irrelevant, debating society."
"The decision is this for the United Nations: When you say something, does it mean anything?" Bush told troops Thursday at the Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, Fla.
"I'm optimistic that free nations will show backbone and courage in the face of true threats to peace and freedom," added the president.
ElBaradei suggested Thursday that he would ask for more time, reiterating that his inspectors need months to finish their job.
Concerns identified by ElBaradei included "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.
The magnets and carbon fiber as well as the aluminum tubing could potentially be used in centrifuges to make fuel for nuclear warheads, according to experts at the Vienna-based agency.
"These are the kinds of issues we are looking at," he said. Agency officials said ElBaradei would raise these concerns at the council meeting.
He suggested his report will not give a definite use for aluminum tubing because "we are still conducting investigations" based on additional information from the Iraqis.
On another subject, ElBaradei said American U-2 planes "should be flying this week." Iraq recently accepted reconnaissance flights by American U-2 aircraft.
Earlier Thursday, Gen. Hossam Mohamed Amin, chief Iraqi liaison to the U.N. inspectors, confirmed that Iraq had set restrictions on the use of surveillance aircraft.
He said a letter was sent to Blix, insisting on "all information about when these planes are entering Iraqi airspace, the altitude and speed of the plane, I mean the surveillance plane. We also need the call sign, and the time and date they enter Iraqi airspace. If we get this information we can guarantee the safety of the pilot and the plane."
ElBaradei said he supported increasing the number of inspectors.
"We need a strong, intrusive regime," he said, in making the case for expanding inspectors past their present strength of 119 -- most of them involved in the biological and chemical weapons search.
"We would like to see our inspections beefed up, but that's no substitute for full and active Iraqi cooperation."
ElBaradei said there are no plans to send U.N. peacekeepers to augment the inspection teams but added he would welcome additional "security personnel" to work hand-in-hand with the inspectors.
Such extra security would "protect our sites from infiltration but not ... in any way enforce inspections," he said. "To enforce inspections is really the duty of the Security Council."
While the Security Council meets at the United Nations, New York City remains on extremely high alert for a new act of terrorism.
Officials in Washington have been warning that a terror attack against Americans could coincide with end of the hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, which was Thursday.
In what could become the biggest peace protests since the Vietnam war, millions of people were expected to demonstrate around the globe this weekend against a U.S.-led war on Iraq .
A new CBS-New York Times poll showed that Bush has convinced about two-thirds of Americans of the need for military action against Iraq — even if nearly the same proportions also said they wanted more time for U.N. weapons inspections and for the U.S. to forge a broad alliance.
Six U.S. lawmakers, members of the military and parents of servicemen went to federal court this week to try to prevent the president from launching an invasion of Iraq without an explicit declaration of war from Congress.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.