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 Wednesday, 29 January, 2003, 23:56 GMT
New US warning on Iraq debate
Iraqi family walk past poster of Saddam Hussein
The US says Saddam is an international threat
The United States ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, has warned that the window for finding a diplomatic solution to the Iraq crisis is closing.

Mr Negroponte was speaking as the UN Security Council met in closed session to discuss the recent report by chief weapons inspectors.

Colin Powell
When the time comes, I hope France will study the situation carefully, and will be in a position to support any action that is required

Colin Powell
US Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Wednesday he hoped to win French support for any action against Iraq.

A BBC correspondent at the UN in New York says several of the 15 Security Council members attending Wednesday's meeting seemed unconvinced that the case against Iraq was proven.

"The time for diplomatic action is narrowing. The diplomatic window is closing," Mr Negroponte said.

"We feel that the time for decision-making is fast-approaching. We don't have a specific timetable in mind, but the situation is pressing."

In an interview with the French television station TF1, Mr Powell said "we've got to take action".

"And when the time comes, I hope France will study the situation carefully, and will be in a position to support any action that is required."

France, Russia and China - all permanent veto-wielding members of the Security Council - want weapons inspectors to be given more time.

The UK - also a permanent member - is standing with Washington as it threatens to lead a "coalition of willing countries" against Iraq unless it disarms.

Support for Blair

Seven European leaders have given public support for UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's stance on Iraq ahead of his summit with US President George W Bush on Friday.

In a joint article in the UK's Times newspaper, the leaders of Spain, Italy, Portugal, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Denmark have joined Mr Blair in appealing for European unity in the drive to disarm Saddam Hussein.

However, none of the seven countries apart from Spain is a member of the UN Security Council whereas France and Germany - who remain sceptical about possible military action - are.

The European Union has said Iraq's disarmament must be handled in the United Nations.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein - who denies having weapons of mass destruction - said on Wednesday that Baghdad would "break the neck" of the US if it attacked Iraq.

US defence officials say there are now nearly 90,000 US personnel in and around the Gulf.

The Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, indirectly acknowledged on Wednesday the presence of some US forces in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.

He wouldn't be pressed on where US forces were, but said there were not "significant numbers in northern Iraq".

New evidence

Mr Powell is to address a special meeting of the Security Council on 5 February, presenting what the US says is new evidence that Iraq has illegal weapons and is harbouring terrorists.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the details of what Mr Powell would say were still being worked out. But he said evidence of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda had been growing daily.

KEY DATES
27 Jan - First full report on inspections presented to UN
29 Jan - UN discusses report
31 Jan - Bush meets Blair
5 Feb - Powell to address UN Security Council
14 Feb - Further report from weapons inspectors
27 Mar - Blix submits new report to UN

Mr Bush told an audience in Michigan on Wednesday that the US had to deal with Saddam Hussein "before it is too late".

He said he wanted the United Nations "to be something other than an empty debating society".

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Mr Bush said Iraq had links to terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.

Baghdad has categorically rejected the allegations.

Open in new window : Who backs war?
Where key nations stand on Iraq

Mr Blair echoed Mr Bush's comments in parliament on Wednesday, saying: "We do know of links between al-Qaeda and Iraq. We cannot be certain of the nature of these links."

A Foreign Office spokesman in London went further, saying: "We believe that there have been, and still are, some al-Qaeda operatives in parts of Iraq controlled by Baghdad."

Iraq's Ambassador to the UN, Mohammad al-Douri, said on Wednesday that Baghdad would co-operate "pro-actively" with weapons inspectors.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Valerie Jones
"Tough decisions to be made"
  Daniel Neep of the Royal United Services Institute
"Killer evidence is crucial and has to be revealed in the next week"
  Weapons inspector Mohamed ElBaradei
"In our area I see light at the end of the tunnel"

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29 Jan 03 | Politics
29 Jan 03 | Americas
29 Jan 03 | Europe
29 Jan 03 | Americas
29 Jan 03 | Americas
29 Jan 03 | Politics
28 Jan 03 | Europe
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29 Jan 03 | Entertainment
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27 Jan 03 | Americas
29 Jan 03 | Europe
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