February 5, 2003
Postec at: 9:15 a.m. CST
UNITED NATIONS - Secretary of State Colin Powell backed by top CIA officials and declassified intelligence material, hoped Wednesday to win over a mostly skeptical U.N. Security Council in his argument that Iraq continues to defy disarmament orders.
The evidence, part of an 11th-hour U.S. effort to win U.N. authorization to use force against Saddam Hussein is expected to include transcripts and possibly recordings of intercepted conversations of Iraqi officials discussing the country's weapons programs. There also may be images taken by satellites of suspected mobile biological weapons labs in large trucks, officials said.
Powell's report also was expected to indicate that Iraqi officials had advance knowledge where U.N. weapons inspectors were going to look, in line with a recent report from the British government that said Iraqi intelligence had bugged inspectors' telephones and hotel and conference rooms.
And he will try to make a case that Iraq has links to al-Qaida and other terror groups.
"If I had this evidence before a jury that was an unbiased jury, I could get a conviction," said Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "But we're talking about a different stage. (Powell) has a tougher jury and there is a lot of skepticism that exists in the international community."
Biden joined more than a dozen other Democratic and Republican lawmakers for breakfast with President Bush who sketched out his case against Saddam hours before Powell's presentation. Lawmakers in both parties have accused the White House of failing to keep them informed of developments on Iraq.
As U.S. military forces continued their buildup in the Persian Gulf region, Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix warned Saddam on Tuesday that it's "five minutes to midnight."
Most U.S. allies want more time for U.N. weapons inspectors to do their work in Iraq. But Bush and his top national security aides have said repeatedly that the United States — with or without its allies — will forcibly disarm Iraq if it does not immediately comply with U.N. resolutions requiring it to rid itself of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
"This issue will come to a head in a matter of weeks, not months," Bush said last week.
In anticipation of the evidence Powell was expected to unveil, Blix said he saw no proof that any information was being leaked to the Iraqis about inspection sites, and no evidence that Iraq was moving prohibited material to escape inspectors.
CIA Director George Tenet and his chief deputy, John McLaughlin, were expected to accompany Powell. In selecting evidence, Powell and intelligence specialists were said to be taking care not to reveal more about their operations than they could safely show Iraq.
The intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs is considered solid; the information on Baghdad's contacts with al-Qaida is less so but still suspicious, officials said. The information centers on the movements of a lieutenant of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden Abu Musab Zarqawi, who traveled to Baghdad last summer for medical treatment and is now believed to be working with a Kurdish Islamic extremist group in northern Iraq, officials said.
The presentation was expected also to refer to an Iraqi defector who has told U.S. intelligence about mobile chemical labs, a senior administration official said.
Powell hoped his evidence would persuade the Security Council that Iraq has caches of chemical and biological weapons, nascent nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs and ties to terror groups.
German Ambassador Gunter Pleuger, whose government currently is president of the Security Council and is strongly opposed to war, said the foreign ministers at Powell's briefing might not be able to respond immediately to highly technical material.
Pleuger said Powell's audiovisual presentation "might take more or less roughly an hour." It was to be followed by two hours for comments from the other 14 members and Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri, who was invited to speak even though Iraq is not a council member.
Arriving in New York on Tuesday, Powell met first with Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, whose government prefers a diplomatic approach to Iraq. They discussed Iraq and North Korea which has moved to resume nuclear weapons development, as well as Taiwan and human rights, a U.S. official said.
After his Security Council presentation, Powell scheduled a series of meetings with the foreign ministers of Russia, Chile, Cameroon, Mexico, Angola, Pakistan, France, Spain and Bulgaria.
Saddam, in an interview broadcast Tuesday in London, denied his government has a relationship with the al-Qaida or has weapons of mass destruction. He said it would be impossible to hide such arms.