Inspectors to report to divided council
Saddam issues decree banning weapons of mass destruction
UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- With war and peace hanging in the balance, the leaders of the U.N. weapons inspection effort in Iraq will give a progress report Friday to a Security Council sharply divided over the best course to take to get Iraq to conform with international demands to disarm.
Iraq's National Assembly also is holding what it called an "extraordinary session" ahead of the report, Iraqi officials said.
Before that meeting, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein Friday issued a decree banning weapons of mass destruction. (Full story)
Both Hans Blix, executive chairman of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, and Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, will address the Security Council at a 10:15 a.m. EST meeting.
Blix, whose teams look for evidence of chemical or biological weapons, and ElBaradei, whose inspectors are charged with finding any Iraqi nuclear capability, will give their assessments of the progress of the weapons inspections.
In a sign of the high stakes involved, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and foreign ministers from Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain are traveling to New York to present their countries' views rather than leaving the task to their U.N. ambassadors.
U.S. officials said Thursday that they expect a "mixed report." Senior officials said Blix is under pressure from others on the Security Council to present a report that offers hope that prolonging the inspections regime might bring progress.
"He is trying to satisfy 15 bosses, and he also knows that his words could have consequences," one senior U.S. official said.
Blix will take questions after his presentation, and some are expected to address Iraq's al-Samoud 2 missile, which a report said "went beyond" the 93 miles (150 kilometers) allowed by U.N. resolutions. Iraqi officials said the missile did not yet have a guidance system, which would reduce its range.
At issue is whether the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is in "material breach" of Security Council Resolution 1441, passed unanimously in November. The resolution demanded that Iraq disclose its capabilities to make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, cooperate with U.N. inspectors and give up weapons prohibited by agreements signed at the end of the Persian Gulf War.
The resolution called for "serious consequences" if Iraq violated those requirements. The United States and Britain are expected to argue Friday that Iraq is indeed in "material breach" of the resolution and that the consequences -- namely military action -- should follow.
But France, Russia, China and Germany -- opposed to using military force -- have joined forces to propose a plan to increase the number of inspectors and give them more time to hunt for weapons.
Bush: Iraq tests U.N. credibility
On Thursday, President Bush turned up the rhetorical heat on the Security Council, saying the credibility and effectiveness of the world body are at stake.
Bush said he was "optimistic" that the council "will rise to its responsibilities."
"I believe when it's all said and done, free nations will not allow the United Nations to fade into history as an ineffective, irrelevant debating society," he said.
Speaking to reporters as he arrived Thursday in New York, ElBaradei said he would give the Security Council "a state of play of where we are, what we have achieved, what is left for us to do and an assessment of the degree of cooperation we are receiving from Iraq."
"I think we still have a chance. If we continue with our work, if Iraq provides full cooperation, we still should be able to avoid the war," he said.
U.S., Britain work on new resolution
The United States and Britain are preparing a new Security Council resolution that, in the words of one U.S. official involved in the discussions, makes it clear that "the time has come to enforce [Resolution] 1441." The exact language is being hammered out between Washington and London.
While a slim chance exists the new resolution could be presented Friday, it is more likely to be introduced early next week, the official said.
However, getting another resolution through the Security Council may be difficult. France, China and Russia are permanent council members with veto power, and Germany currently chairs the council.
U.S. and British officials maintain that while they would welcome another resolution, 1441 gives them the authority to proceed with military action against Iraq.
"It is our decision as to whether or not we move a second resolution," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said.
Meanwhile, Pope John Paul II, in a meeting Friday with Tariq Aziz, Iraqi deputy prime minister, urged Iraq to take "concrete steps" to show that it is abiding by U.N. resolutions requiring it to disarm.
Aziz assured the pope about Iraq's intention to cooperate with the international community, but John Paul II told him simple cooperation was likely not enough.
The pope urged Iraq "to respect faithfully and with concrete steps the resolutions of the U.N. Security Council, which guarantees internationally legality," the Holy See said.
Aziz arrived Thursday in Rome, Italy, saying he was bringing with him a message from Saddam about the "war of aggressions" facing Iraq. (Full story)
For more on latest developments, see CNN.com's Iraq Tracker.