UNITED NATIONS - Secretary of State Colin Powell, methodically making his case that Iraq has defied all demands that it disarm, presented tape recordings, satellite photos and informants’ statements Wednesday that he said constituted “irrefutable and undeniable’’ evidence that Saddam Hussein is concealing weapons of mass destruction.
“Clearly, Saddam will stop at nothing until something stops him,’’ Powell told a skeptical U.N. Security Council, saying Baghdad’s denials represent a “web of lies.’’
Three months after Iraq pledged that it would disarm, Powell presented his evidence in an appearance that was televised live around the world. The Council members - joined by Iraq’s U.N. ambassador - sat around a large circular table with Powell and listened attentively.
“The pronouncements that Mr. Powell made in his presentation are utterly unrelated to the truth,’’ countered Mohammed Al-Douri. “There are incorrect allegations, unnamed sources, unknown sources.’’ He also suggested that audio tapes played to the Council by Powell were “not genuine.’’
Powell stared icily at Al-Douri during the Iraqi’s rebuttal.
Of the 15 Council members, only the United States and Britain have voiced support for forcibly disarming Saddam, but the Bush administration is counting on Spain and Bulgaria, among others, to be part of any coalition against Iraq.
Powell’s remarks did not seem to sway the three other permanent members of the Council that, along with the United States and Britain, hold veto powers.
Representatives of China, Russia and France all said the work of the weapons inspectors should continue - with the French calling for the number of inspectors to be tripled and the process strengthened.
Coming to Powell’s defense, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the secretary made a “most powerful’’ case. Saddam is “gambling that we will lose our nerve rather than enforce our will,’’ Straw said.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, a skeptic on any military action against Iraq, said evidence presented by Powell and findings of the weapons inspectors “have to be examined carefully.’’ Germany currently holds the rotating Security Council chairmanship.
“We must continue to seek a peaceful solution to the crisis,’’ he said.
In a more than hour-long presentation, Powell also detailed the U.S. claims that Baghdad and al-Qaida operatives are working together and that some followers of a senior associate of Osama bin Laden are currently in the Iraqi capital, with the approval of Saddam.
Saddam, in an interview broadcast Tuesday in London, had forcefully denied that 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.
In his presentation, Powell:
-Asserted that Iraq “bulldozed and graded to conceal chemical weapons evidence’’ at the Al Musayyib chemical complex in 2002 and had a series of cargo vehicles and a decontamination vehicle moving around at the site. Powell said that was corroborated by a human source.
- Said Iraq is working on developing missiles with a range of 1,000 kilometers - about 620 miles - or more, putting Russia and other nations beyond Iraq’s immediate neighbors in potential danger.
-Played audio tapes of what Powell said were intercepted phone conversations between Iraqi military officers. One was a purported discussion about hiding prohibited vehicles from weapons inspectors. Another dealt with removing a reference to nerve agents from written instructions.
-Cited informants as saying that Iraqis are dispersing rockets armed with biological weapons in western Iraq.
-Presented declassified satellite pictures that he said showed 15 munitions bunkers. Powell said four of them had active chemical munitions inside.
-Said satellites observed cleanup activities at nearly 30 suspected weapons sites in the days before inspectors arrived.
-Said Iraqi informants claim that Iraq has 18 trucks that it uses as mobile biological weapons labs.
Powell presented his case in a rapid-fire delivery, moving from tape recordings to photos and other evidence without pause.
He said his case was persuasive that Iraq is hiding its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs and missile activity and was deliberately misleading inspectors. “I believe this conclusion is irrefutable and undeniable,’’ he said.
“The issue before us is not how much time we are willing to give the inspectors to be frustrated by Iraqi obstruction, but how much longer are we willing to put up with Iraq’s noncompliance before we as a Council, we as the United Nations say: 'Enough. Enough.’ “
Most U.S. allies want more time for U.N. weapons inspectors to do their work. 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.
Tang Jiaxuan, China’s foreign minister, said immediately afterward, “As long as there is still the slightest hope for political settlement, we should exert our utmost effort to achieve that.’’
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov agreed, saying inspections “must be continued.’’
Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister, also said inspections should continue - but under “an enhanced regime of inspections monitoring’’ and that Iraq must do more to cooperate - including allowing overflights from U-2 spy planes, as the United States is seeking.
Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Powell had “a tougher jury’’ than a prosecutor would have encountered. But he said the secretary’s case against Iraq was “very powerful and I think irrefutable.’’