Thursday, February 6, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Another straw on Iraq but not the fatal straw

SECRETARY of State Colin Powell made an irrefutable case Saddam Hussein has strained mightily to produce chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

The photos and audio tapes Powell presented to the United Nations Security Council yesterday reinforced the need for continued inspections, but fell short of a compelling, convincing case for a preemptive attack.

Saddam has refused to cooperate fully with U.N. inspectors, and he may well suffer the consequences for his failure to disarm or reveal the extent of his weapons programs. Building a case sufficient to involve skeptical allies will take more time.

Last week, the impatience of U.N. chief arms inspector Hans Blix was clearly evident during his report to the Security Council. Eventually, he may add a powerful voice to those who conclude military intervention is necessary.

Powell's presentation had a cumulative impact, but it was not yet an Adlai Stevenson moment, when America's U.N. ambassador confronted the Soviet Union's delegate with satellite photos of missile installations in Cuba.

Forty years ago, in those anxious days of the Cold War, the missile threat was deemed worthy of the risks of a nuclear confrontation. Even the nearby threat of nuclear-tipped missiles was addressed with an embargo, not an invasion.

Powell made a strong case that Iraq seeks biological and chemical weapons, but he could not make a case for how far the effort had progressed, or how direct and imminent the threat to neighbors or the United States. Saddam's links to terrorism were not established, nor was much of an effort made to suggest an operative connection.

China, Russia and others responded to Powell by saying the work of the U.N. inspectors should continue. The United States has asked France, Germany and Russia to join in the war on terrorism and to help us isolate Iraq.

This is far from over. Iraq may yet suffer the consequences of a broadly backed military assault led by the United States.

The U.N. will be brought around most quickly by evidence of Iraq's intentions and its stubborn and fatal refusal to cooperate. Inspectors armed with good intelligence are vested with the technical skills and the international authority to apply that pressure.

Secretary of State Powell and the administration he serves need to look back over their shoulders. This is not all about grumpy Germans, testy French and Security Council vetoes.

Many people here at home still need to be convinced the threat is worthy of the risk and sacrifice of lives, money, lengthy occupation and unintended future consequences.


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