| Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix at the UN on Friday. (Reuters)
Washington, Feb. 14 (Reuters): A White House spokesman said President George W. Bush remained optimistic Iraq would heed international calls to disarm and avert the need for a US-led war to do so by armed force.
“The President remains hopeful that Iraq will, indeed, disarm and therefore avert the need for force to be used to disarm him,” spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.
Speaking after chief UN weapons inspectors delivered their latest updates to the UN Security Council in New York, Fleischer cited what he called continued obstruction by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
“But in the end, the process set forward by the United Nations ... is aimed at the disarmament of Saddam Hussein. Nowhere did the world receive any comfort in New York that Saddam Hussein has shown the world that he has disarmed. Quite the contrary,” he said.
At the UN, US secretary of state Colin Powell accused Iraq of playing tricks on the United Nations and said the Security Council could not allow the inspection process to be “endlessly strung out”.
“To this day we have not seen the level of cooperation that was ... hoped for,” he told the council after the latest report on Iraqi disarmament by chief UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei.
“We cannot allow this process to be endlessly strung out,” he said, mocking Baghdad’s claim that it was cooperating with inspectors and disputing the anti-war argument that inspections should continue even without full Iraqi compliance.
Powell said the Security Council would have to consider whether it was time to impose “serious consequences” — the diplomatic term Washington interprets to mean a military invasion to overthrow Saddam.
“We must continue to put pressure on Iraq, put force on Iraq, make sure that the threat of force is not removed,” he said, but gave no indication how long Washington could wait.
The US has moved tens of thousands of troops to the region around Iraq in preparation for an invasion if Bush decides to attack. US officials have said a decision was weeks away.
Powell said he was pleased at the positive elements in the reports by the UN inspectors but that they covered only cooperation with the inspection process, without a political decision by Baghdad to disarm voluntarily.
“These are all tricks that are being played on us. ... They (the inspectors) are still being watched. They are still being bugged. They still do not have the access they need in Iraq to do their job well,” he said.
Blix had reported some improvements in Iraqi cooperation but complained again that Baghdad had not accounted for all of the anthrax, VX nerve agent and long-range missiles it was believed to possess.