Powell: Iraq hiding weapons, aiding terrorists
Annan: War not inevitable
UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell used electronic intercepts, satellite photographs and other intelligence sources Wednesday in an effort to convince skeptical members of the U.N. Security Council that Iraq is actively working to deceive U.N. weapons inspectors.
"I cannot tell you everything that we know," Powell said, with CIA Director George Tenet sitting behind him. "But what I can share with you, when combined with what all of us have learned over the years, is deeply troubling." (Key points)
While calling Powell's presentation strong and thorough, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters, "I still believe war is not inevitable."
But he urged Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi leadership to fully comply with U.N. Resolution 1441 to disarm "for the sake of their own people, for the region and for world order."
One intercept, Powell said, was between a colonel and brigadier general of Iraq's elite Republican Guard discussing hiding a vehicle before U.N. inspectors arrived to search a site.
Powell said it indicated the Iraqi officials knew inspectors were coming and what they would be looking for. In the U.S. translation, one official is heard to say, "We have this modified vehicle. What do we say if one of them sees it?" The other official says, "I'll come to see you in the morning. I'm worried. You all have something left."
The other official then says, "We evacuated everything. We don't have anything left."
Powell called the recordings "part and parcel of a policy of evasion and deception that goes back 12 years."
Gen. Amir al-Saadi, the Iraqi government's science adviser, dismissed those recordings as manufactured evidence, saying "any third-rate intelligence outfit could produce such recordings." (More on Iraqi reaction)
Powell also showed satellite photos that he said indicated the presence of "active chemical munitions bunkers" that had been disguised.
Those were followed with photos he said illustrated the facilities had been "sanitized" before U.N. inspectors arrived.
Al-Saadi said inspectors had the same satellite imagery and performed tests to detect evidence of weapons and found nothing.
Annan said U.N. chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei will begin studying the information presented by Powell and will pursue "the leads that they have been given."
Powell also gave the most detailed explanation yet of possible links between Baghdad and al Qaeda.
He said high-ranking Osama bin Laden lieutenant Abu Musab Zarqawi, who is an expert in chemical and biological weapons, led a terrorist network that had been operating freely in Iraq for more than eight months. (Full story)
Zarqawi has been linked to October's assassination of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley in Jordan and the alleged ricin plot that was broken up in London last month. His current whereabouts are unknown.
U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said Saddam had to know what Zarqawi was doing and she accused the Iraqi leader of being responsible for "a network that is spreading poisons throughout Europe."
"The potential marriage of weapons of mass destruction with terrorism is everyone's nightmare," said Rice.
She suggested that the cost of not taking action against Iraq could be another September 11-type attack, but this time with weapons of mass destruction that could kill tens of thousands.
Iraq can do very little now to avoid confrontation, Rice said. Saddam had one final opportunity to "come completely clean" with weapons inspectors, but he wasted it by deceiving them, she said. (Full story)
Meanwhile, U.S. counterterrorism officials said Wednesday they believe there is a heightened threat of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, partly due to concern that somebody may use a potential conflict with Iraq as a pretext. (Full story)
Security Council reacts
Mohammed Aldouri, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, denied Powell's allegations, saying they were "utterly unrelated to the truth." (Transcript of rebuttal)
Aldouri spoke after Powell and the other members of the Security Council. (Interactive: Member nations' positions on Iraq)
Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan called on the United Nations to allow weapons inspectors to complete their job in Iraq.
British Foreign Minister Jack Straw continued Powell's assertion that Iraq is flagrantly flouting U.N. resolutions. Britain is the key U.S. ally in the drive to force Saddam to disarm. (Full story)
At a lunch that followed Powell's presentation, diplomats said he responded to the French foreign minister's concerns about the impact war with Iraq would have on the region by saying, "I wasn't talking about war, but about strengthening inspections."
The diplomats said Powell also made clear to Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin that the United States is not ready to go to war immediately, and is interested in hearing France's proposals to strengthen inspections with the added value of the evidence Powell presented.
CNN.com's Iraq Tracker has further developments in the standoff with Iraq.
CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King and National Security Correspondent David Ensor contributed to this report.