Secretary of State Colin Powell on Wednesday said countries like France that oppose swift military action against Iraq are afraid of upholding their responsibility to disarm Baghdad by force.

Powell's comments, in an interview broadcast on France-Inter radio and translated into French, were clearly directed at French President Jacques Chirac, who believes that U.N. weapons inspectors should be given more time and muscle to complete their job.

"It is not a satisfactory solution to continue inspections indefinitely because certain countries are afraid of upholding their responsibility to impose the will of the international community," Powell said.

The latest trans-Atlantic gibe -- more evidence of the deep division separating the United States and most European countries from France, Germany and Belgium -- came after Chirac said nations of the former Soviet bloc in Central and Eastern Europe should remain silent on the Iraq dispute.

Powell said "time is running out" for Baghdad to disarm and that strengthening the inspection system was not the solution.


"The problem is not more inspectors or a longer inspection process," Powell said. "My French colleagues believes that is the problem. It isn't."

Powell confirmed the United States and its allies were drafting a new U.N. Security Council resolution for military action against Iraq, but did not provide details about the content, nor did he say when it might be presented.

But he reiterated that Washington believes it already has the authority under November's resolution 1441 to invade Iraq.

France, along with Russia and Germany, says there is no need for a new resolution as long as inspections continue to yield results. Paris has left open whether it would veto such a resolution.

"I would also point out that many of us and certainly the United States believes there is the necessary authority under resolution 1441 to take action," Powell said.

Powell said Baghdad admitted during the inspection process in the 1990s that it possessed weapons of mass destruction, "but they won't tell us what happened to the material."

"I think we owe it to the international community and the world to get the right answer," Powell said.