Powell says U.S. evidence against Iraq is #039;irrefutable#039;

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 6, 2003

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- 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 was concealing weapons of mass destruction.

''Clearly, Saddam Hussein and his regime will stop at nothing until something stops him,'' Powell told a skeptical U.N. Security Council. He said Baghdad's denials represented a ''web of lies.''

Three months after Iraq pledged that it would disarm, Powell presented his evidence in an appearance that was televised around the world. The Council members -- joined by Iraq's U.N. ambassador -- sat around a large circular table with Powell and listened attentively.

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''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.

The administration's next step is to decide whether allies are willing to support a resolution specifically authorizing force against Iraq, a senior official said. The key is France, this official said. But if President Jacques Chirac insists on vetoing such a resolution, Bush won't seek one.

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'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.