Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix said yesterday that Iraq had still not answered a great many questions about its alleged weapons of mass destruction.
"We feel the declaration [by Iraq to the UN] has not answered a great many questions of the past which still remain open. [Our views] have not changed on that," Blix said shortly before leaving Athens for New York.
On Jan. 27, Blix, who has just completed a two-day visit to Iraq, will deliver a crucial report to the UN Security Council on Baghdad's compliance with searches for any weapons of mass destruction.
The report is expected to play a key part in any US decision to attack Iraq.
Speaking of his trip to Baghdad, Blix said Iraqi refusal to allow American U2 spy planes to take part in searches was a setback.
"We did not see acceptance of everything we want to do. I think we have some way to go," Blix said.
"We did not get acceptance of the U2 planes ... and there are some other question marks."
Iraq wants to accompany the U2's with its own aircraft, but would be prevented from doing so if the weapons inspectors flew to the north or south of the country because of no-fly zones patrolled by US and British planes since 1991.
In a harbinger of what lies ahead, France bluntly told the US it would not support an attack on Iraq in the coming weeks, a position diplomats said was shared by most of the 15 Security Council members.
Its foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, in a news conference after US Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke on Monday, hinted at using his veto against any resolution authorizing military force. "We believe that nothing today justifies envisaging military action," he said.
Powell, departing from his planned speech on counter-terrorism, said the Security Council would have to "make a judgment" on Iraq's cooperation after the inspectors give their report next week. He warned the council several times not to shirk its responsibilities.
"We must not shrink from our duties and our responsibilities when the material comes before us next week," Powell said.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday he was convinced he could win public support for military action against Iraq if it were necessary, despite an opinion poll that showed mounting opposition.
Just hours after the government said it was sending one-quarter of its standing army to the Gulf to prepare for possible war, a poll published on Tuesday showed nearly half of Britons now oppose an attack on Iraq.
An ICM opinion poll in The Guardian newspaper showed opposition to military action against Iraq had now reached 47 percent, up from 37 percent just three months ago.