GWEN IFILL: On a day when U.S. military officials pronounced themselves "armed, ready and capable" to launch action against Iraq, a trio of allies dealt the U.S. a diplomatic setback. Foreign ministers from Russia, France, and Germany said today they will do whatever they can to avoid war. The hard-line statements, issued at an emergency meeting in Paris, called for continuing inspections, and the foreign ministers-- two of whom have U.N. veto power-- said they will derail any new U.N. resolution authorizing military action against Iraq.
DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN (Translated): We will not allow a resolution to pass that authorizes the force as a recourse. Russia and France, as permanent members of the Security Council, will assume all our responsibilities on this point.
GWEN IFILL: Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, in a news conference later in the day at the U.N., added some fuel to the diplomatic fire. He said Iraq has destroyed 28 of its 100 long-range al-Samoud missiles and has also allowed inspectors to interview seven more Iraqi scientists.
HANS BLIX: There's certainly a great deal of activity and clearly motivated by the threat around them. It's a pity that it's needed, but it's good that this cooperation happened, and I regretted also that it was late. In my latest report, I said that they could have done this earlier and could have brought it to fruition now. It could have changed the political situation. But there is a great deal more cooperation now, and the threat certainly has brought it there. I hope it is not too late.
GWEN IFILL: Blix said he'd welcome more time for the inspectors to do their work, but he wasn't confident the Iraqis would continue to cooperate.
HANS BLIX: If I asked, say, give me four more months, I think I can settle it in that period. That sort of suggests I have confidence that they would cooperate sufficiently. I would not dare to give any check on that, that they would do so, because the track record has not been good.
GWEN IFILL: But it's the threat of force, Sec. of State Colin Powell said, not the threat of inspections, that has made the difference. In a speech in Washington, Sec. Powell said Saddam Hussein has already squandered his one last chance.
COLIN POWELL: We know that the Iraqi regime intends to declare and destroy only a portion of its banned al-Samoud inventory, and that it has, in fact, ordered the continued production of the missiles that you see being destroyed. Iraq has brought its machinery that produces such missiles out into the daylight for all to see, but we have intelligence that says at the very same time, it has also begun to hide machinery it can use to convert other kinds of engines to power al-Samouds II. We have received further intelligence from multiple sources showing that Iraq is continuing in its efforts to deceive the inspectors. Much of this intelligence, from a variety of sensitive sources, many of these sources I cannot share with anyone in any greater detail than I am here today, but it's reliable and shows that the Iraqi regime is still moving weapons of mass destruction materials around the country to avoid detection.
GWEN IFILL: Saddam Hussein, he said, has deliberately set out to divide the U.N.
COLIN POWELL: If Iraq complies and disarms, even at this late hour, it is possible to avoid war. He is betting, however, that his contempt for the will of the international community is stronger than the collective result of the Security Council to impose its will. Saddam Hussein is betting that some members of the Council will not sanction the use of force despite all the evidence of his continued refusal to disarm. Divisions among us, and there are divisions among us, if these divisions continue, will only convince Saddam Hussein that he is right, and I can assure you he is wrong.
GWEN IFILL: But Powell said U.N. inaction will not prevent U.S. action.