Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said Tuesday he does not believe Iraq will use chemical or biological weapons during a war, even though it can produce warheads and deadly agents to fill them.
The reason, he said, was world opinion would turn in favor of the United States if Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction.
And even on the brink of defeat, when using such weapons might be a last resort, Saddam's government would still care about public opinion, Blix said. "Some people care about their reputation even after death," he said.
Blix gave a news conference as the Security Council prepared to hold an open meeting Wednesday, attended by five foreign ministers, to discuss his list of key remaining disarmament tasks for Iraq and what the United Nations can do to provide humanitarian relief when war begins.
The council session will take place hours before the expiration of President Bush's 48-hour deadline for Saddam and his sons to leave Iraq or face military action.
The 15 members agreed Tuesday they were ready to discuss proposals by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to deal with the humanitarian situation in Iraq.
About 60 percent of Iraq's 22 million people rely on the U.N. oil-for-food program, in which Iraqi oil sales fund food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies. New arrangements would be needed if the Iraqi government falls.
Blix's list of a dozen questions that Iraq must answer to prove it is disarming peacefully has been eclipsed by the looming war and the withdrawal of U.N. inspectors, but Germany's U.N. Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said it still "makes sense" for the council to discuss and adopt it.
"The system of inspections is now suspended but not abolished," he said. "We will need the system of inspections after the war" because a 1999 U.N. resolution foresees "that inspections, verification and monitoring would go on after the disarmament of Iraq."
France, Russia and Germany, which led the opposition to a war against Iraq, had pressed for Wednesday's council meeting to discuss a "realistic" timetable to implement Blix's list on issues such as anthrax, VX nerve agent, and Scud missiles.
Blix expressed disappointment that the United States, Britain and Spain had decided so quickly that inspections weren't working. In the face of strong council opposition, the three countries on Monday abandoned efforts to seek Security Council backing for war.
When Resolution 1441 was adopted Nov. 8 giving Iraq a final opportunity to disarm, Blix said he believed all council members were serious about strengthening inspections and giving them a chance.
"But then some didn't have the patience a little earlier than others have done, and I think that's a pity," he said.
During 3 months of inspections, Blix said, his teams found no evidence of chemical or biological weapons.
Asked whether he believed Saddam would use such weapons, if he has them, Blix said: "I think they would be able if the weapons were there -- and I'm not saying they are. And I'm not saying that they have means of delivery -- but they could have it. ... But I doubt that they would have the will to do it."