Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix said Iraq has largely cooperated with arms experts, in a report to the UN Security Council that could determine whether the world body backs military action against Baghdad.
Blix said Baghdad had refused to grant a request for the use of U-2 spy planes and cited "strong indications" that Iraq had produced more anthrax than admitted in a report filed last month.
"Access has been provided to all sites we have requested to inspect," Blix told the Security Council.
Shortly before the report was read out at UN headquarters in New York, the United States served notice that it would not accept anything less than full compliance from Baghdad to UN disarmament demands.
"The United States will read the Blix report to see one thing, one thing very simple: Is Iraq complying, yes or no?" said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Iraq "must comply in all regards. not in some regards, not in half regards, not in some areas but not other areas. Yes or no, are they or aren't they."
Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), appeared before the top UN body to report on progress in their first two months of work hunting down Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, amid mounting US threats to wage a solo war on Iraq.
For his part, Baradei said that IAEA inspectors had not identifed any illegal nuclear activities in Iraq but he asserted that Baghdad needs to be more "pro-active" in helping nuclear experts do their work.
As appeals mounted worldwide for a diplomatic solution to the crisis, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said he expected the Security Council to give weapons inspectors more time to complete their work in Iraq.
"If they do need time, they should be given the time to finish their work," Anna told reporters ahead of the key briefing by Blix, chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC).
"I suspect the council will allow for that time," he added.
Despite the expectation that the Security Council would allow inspectors more time, the meeting was being seen as a countdown to conflict in Iraq.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri appealed for the UN inspectors to be fair in their report.
"I hope they will be fair... and they will present the facts as they are on the ground," Sabri said in Baghdad while denying US allegations of Iraqi links to the al-Qaeda terror network.
On the eve of the report, US Secretary of State Colin Powell insisted that Washington had a "sovereign right to take military action on Iraq alone or in a coalition of the willing," amid vocal opposition in Europe.
The United States "will act even if others are not prepared to join us," Powell, who claimed that a dozen countries were prepared to support Washington, told a meeting of political and business leaders in Davos, Switzerland.
Oil prices rose amid fears that the US was preparing to launch an assault on Iraq and disrupt Middle East supplies, sending world stock markets plunging and Europe's markets hitting a seven-year low.
The EU, which includes four Security Council members, said in a statement it "welcomes their (inspectors') intention to continue and intensify their operations."
UN Security Council resolution 1441, which mandated the inspections in November, "gives an unambiguous message that the Iraqi government has a final opportunity to resolve the crisis peacefully", the statement said.
Amid the flurry of diplomatic activity in Brussels, EU president Greece said that Foreign Minister George Papandreou would consider going to Baghdad on a diplomatic mission, insisting that a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis was still possible.
With a huge US-led military build-up underway in the Gulf, Russian President Vladimir Putin told British Prime Minister Tony Blair in telephone talks that the UN inspections must be allowed to continue, the Kremlin said.
"In their discussion of Iraq, the Russian side stressed the need to continue the work of international inspectors in line with UN Security Council resolutions," the statement said.
Russia, along with France and China, is insisting on a diplomatic solution to the standoff over Iraq's supposed arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
Both the United States and key ally Britain have identified any failure by Baghdad to cooperate with the UN inspectors as a possible trigger for war and could use Monday's report to press for military action against Iraq.
President George W. Bush was expected to make the case for maintaining a tough stance on Iraq in his State of the Union address to the US Congress on Tuesday.
Blair and Bush are to meet Friday at the presidential retreat Camp David near Washington, in what is being seen as a key "war council" to flesh out preparations for strikes against Saddam.
The call for more time was echoed by Germany, anxious to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Germany holds a non-permanent seat on the Security Council and has said it will not vote in favour of military action.
"I think now the point is to try everything to implement 1441 without the use of military force," said Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.
"The German position is that the inspectors should have all the time they need," Fischer told reporters in Brussels.
France, a permanent Security Council member with veto power, has also been outspoken in its criticism for Washington's preparations for war.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher added to calls for diplomacy.
"Everyone agrees that the inspectors should be given the time that they need, the time for which they have asked to complete their task," Maher said in Paris.
Tens of thousands of people meanwhile took to the streets of Arab capitals to protest against US and British threats to strike Iraq.
Copyright © 2002 AFP