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Powell fails to convince of need for war

UN weapons inspectors at the main site of Iraq's former nuclear weapons programme in Baghdad Keystone

Swiss experts have reacted with scepticism to claims by the American secretary of state, Colin Powell that a war against Iraq is necessary.

This content was published on February 6, 2003 - 11:03

The Swiss ambassador to the United Nations in New York, Jenö Staehelin, said Powell had also failed to convince key Security Council members.

Staehelin said Powell had succeeded in showing that Iraq had intentionally tried to get round its obligations under the UN resolution 1441, which demands that Baghdad disarm.

"Iraq is now under pressure to be more cooperative," he said.

But he added that the view of many Security Council members had not changed, and that they remained opposed to military action against Baghdad.

Staehelin comments came as France, Russia and China, which have veto power in the Council, said UN weapons inspectors needed more time.

Swiss military experts remain convinced that, despite Iraq's intransigence, a military strike against Baghdad cannot be justified for global security reasons.

Iraqi threat

"Iraq is certainly a threat to its neighbours, but it is certainly not a threat to the world," Albert Stahel, political scientist and military strategist at Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology, told swissinfo.

He added that Powell's speech "was thin and poor" from the point of view of content, and certainly did not provide enough information to justify military action.

"The photos were interesting, but the whole presentation was a public relations event, and [did] not really [contain] much information."

Swiss disarmament experts at the country's main weapons laboratory share Stahel's view that Iraq is not a big enough threat to justify a military strike.

Undermined

Speaking just before Powell's speech on Wednesday, Heiner Staub - who went to Iraq as a weapons inspector in the 1990s - told a newspaper that years of sanctions and previous weapons inspections had severely undermined Iraq's military capabilities.

He said Iraq no longer possessed the factories or the infrastructure to produce nuclear weapons and that UN activity from 1991 to 1998 had destroyed active ingredients as well as the means of producing nearly all biological and chemical weapons.

Staub, who works at the Spiez Laboratory - Switzerland's research centre for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons - told the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper that "In my opinion, there's basically no argument for beginning a war".

"The Iraqis do not represent a threat to America."

Both Stahel and Staub agree, though, that war is inevitable.

"The situation has proceeded in such a way that there is probably no alternative," Staub told the newspaper.

Stahel told swissinfo the US's next move would be to lobby France, Russia and China behind the scenes to secure a new UN resolution, authorising military action against Baghdad.

But he said that if the US does not get a "new resolution, with a clear indication that there will be a strike against Iraq in the case that Saddam Hussein is not willing to cooperate, then I'm sure [it] will act without [one]".

swissinfo, Ramsey Zarifeh and Jonas Hughes

iraq brief

The Swiss ambassador to the UN says Powell's speech has put Iraq under more pressure to disarm, but failed to persuade France, Russia and China to back military action against Baghdad.

Swiss experts say Iraq is a threat to its neighbours but not to the world.

Military strategist, Albert Stahel, said Powell's speech was "a public relations event" but did not contain much information.

He said war was inevitable and the US would go it alone, if it did not get Security Council backing.

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