London, Sept. 25 (Reuters): Britain’s dossier charging Iraq with developing weapons of mass destruction pushed world leaders closer to a showdown today, with hawks saying it proved the need to confront Baghdad and doves scrambling to avoid war.
Two key UN Security Council permanent members remained unconvinced. Russia dismissed a “propaganda furore” surrounding the British report, and France said it still had not seen proof to back its allegations. Germany also was unimpressed.
But the dossier won a sympathetic hearing from some other countries, and permanent council member China warned that Baghdad risked losing international cover if it did not convincingly cooperate with UN weapons inspectors.
US secretary of state Colin Powell would not rule out a move to drive Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power, even if he cooperated with weapons inspections.
“The US continues to believe that the best way to disarm Iraq is through a regime change,” Powell said in an interview.
“Pressure has to be maintained on Iraq until the UN is satisfied that he has got rid of these weapons or allowed inspectors in to make sure of that — that’s the only way to do it — and then we’ll see whether or not that’s adequate or whether more action is needed,” he told Britain’s BBC radio. Within the region, Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak flew to Saudi Arabia to meet Crown Prince Abdallah for a last-ditch diplomatic effort to avert war.
Iraq dismissed as “lies” British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s dossier which accused it of harbouring chemical and biological weapons while seeking to acquire a nuclear capability.
“This dossier is full of false propaganda which lacks material and convincing evidence,” said a statement issued at a cabinet meeting chaired by Saddam.
Iraqi officials hastily took British journalists through factories which the dossier said made weapons of mass destruction. The factories had only peaceful uses, the officials said.
Iraq has offered to allow the unconditional return of UN weapons inspectors who left in 1998. But Blair and US President George W. Bush say they fear the offer is an insincere ploy to stave off military strikes.
Iraqi television also quoted Saddam as telling the Cabinet meeting that the United States should concern itself with violations of UN resolutions by Israel. Iraq has accused Washington of applying a double standard. Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov said only inspectors could verify the British allegations.
“I believe that only specialists and experts can judge whether or not Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. We have therefore sought the fastest possible return to Iraq of inspectors,” he told reporters in Moscow. “It therefore seems to us that it is not worth creating a great propaganda furore around this report.” France also said it was not yet convinced.
“We have accepted the British evaluations and are comparing them with our own,” a foreign ministry spokesman said in Paris, adding that President Jacques Chirac had seen signs but not firm proof that would support Blair’s accusations.
But there were hints of a policy shift in the other UN heavyweight, China. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said yesterday Beijing would consider a possible UN resolution authorising strikes if Iraq did not meet demands for weapons inspections.
The official English-language China Daily newspaper said in an editorial today that Saddam would lose international cover if he did not cooperate fully with inspections.
“This is the last chance for Saddam Hussein to deprive the Americans of a legal case against him,” it wrote. “An Iraqi failure to satisfy the inspectors’ requests might give Bush the excuse he craves to forcefully carry out the ‘regime change’in Iraq.”