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Reports Could Weaken Powell's Case

Washington is seeking to convince the U.N. that Iraq has ties to al Qaeda and is sabotaging weapons inspections. But a leaked British intelligence report denies any relations between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

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Colin Powell faces an audience with many questions

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is scheduled to present new evidence to the U.N. Security Council this afternoon showing Iraq's non-compliance with weapons inspectors. The one-hour presentation is said to include satellite photos showing the Iraqis moving equipment prior to inspections, wiretaps and other evidence that Iraq is not fully complying with UN Resolution 1441. Powell has also said he will present evidence linking Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda.

The U.S. Secretary of State is seeking to convince all 15 members of the Security Council of the need to disarm Iraq, even if the U.N. must go to war in order to meet that goal.

British intelligence report refutes links

The going however will not be easy for Powell this afternoon. He has already dampened hopes for any smoking gun, and the BBC on Wednesday reported on a British intelligence report contradicting Washington's claims that Baghdad has al Qaeda ties.

The official British military intelligence report emphatically denies the existence of ties between Saddam's government and al Qaeda. Senior intelligence officers state in the report that although Baghdad made initial overtures to al Qaeda, the relationship failed to develop due to an ideological split and distrust.

Just last week, British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated there is evidence of links, but "how far they go is uncertain." But Wednesday's report raises questions about that claim.

"They don't see any evidence at all of a link between Saddam's regime and al Qaeda," said BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan. "Bin Laden's aims are in ideological conflict with present-day Iraq. Now that directly contradicts what the prime minister and President Bush have been saying."

In an interview with Britain's Channel Four, Saddam denied Blair's allegation. "If we had a relationship with al Qaeda and if we believed in this relationship, we won't be ashamed to admit it." he told the station.

BBC's Gilligan also reported "serious concerns" inside British and American intelligence agencies that political influence is shaping their work. "They fear politicians are asking them to exaggerate what are actually quite tenuous links between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and al Qaeda to strengthen the case for war."

Critics are also asking why Powell is presenting the new evidence to the entire Security Council rather than the U.N.'s chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix. In an interview with DW-TV on Tuesday, Blix said he wanted the U.S. data as soon as possible. "The more evidence we have on the table, the better," he said.

Germany to lead meeting

Germany is currently the rotating president of the Security Council, and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer will oversee the meeting. Fischer also plans to meet with Powell before he gives his report. But the two are unlikely to find much common ground on how to proceed on the Iraq issue. Both Fischer and German Chancellor Schröder have reiterated the position that Germany will not participate in any miltary action against Baghdad.

"Germany will not participate in a war against Iraq, and that's the way it's going to be," Schröder told German public television on Tuesday night. Schröder did, however, say Germany would review the evidence brought forward by Powell. "First I'm going to look at what type of evidence this is. But it's going to be something for Mr. Blix and Mr. ElBaradei, who will assess the evidence for the Security Council and then make recommendations to the Security Council. I've always said the inspectors should and must be given the time they need."

Speaking in lock step with Schröder this morning, Fischer said Germany is still holding out hope that a peaceful resolution can be found.

"Our position is clear," he told public television. "We will not participate in military action. We see a good chance of achieving the aim of U.N. Resolution 1441 without resorting to violence. The inspectors need time."

France and Britain agree to disagree

Meanwhile, the failure of Britain and France to reach a unified position on Iraq at a summit held Tuesday in the French seaside town of Le Touquet could also make it difficult for the U.S. to build momentum against Saddam in the Security Council. French President Jacques Chirac reiterated the position he shares with Germany's Schröder that inspectors should be give the time they need to carry out their mandate.

In reference to the tensions between the two leaders, Blair told reporters: "Of course there are the differences that are familiar to people." But he added that there are also common positions -- including the need to disarm Iraq and that the U.N. is the best avenue for doing so.

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