The UN chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, yesterday expressed sadness that he had not been allowed more time to complete his work, as foreign ministers from France, Germany and Russia condemned the US and British rush to war.
"I naturally feel sadness that 3 months of work carried out in Iraq have not brought the assurances needed about the absence of weapons of mass destruction or other proscribed items in Iraq," Mr Blix told the security council.
At a prearranged presentation of his work schedule of disarmament tasks, Mr Blix went on to express his regret "that no more time is available for our inspections".
Mr Blix, who has studiously avoided taking sides over the past few months as the security council became increasingly riven, remained supportive but sceptical of Iraq's moves to cooperate.
"The value of this information thus provided must be soberly judged," he said.
"Our experts have found so far that in substance only limited new information has been provided that will help to resolve remaining questions."
But he has become increasingly vocal in his criticism of the coalition's impatience for military action now that war appears inevitable.
"I do not think it is reasonable to close the door on inspections after 3 months," Mr Blix said on Tuesday, arguing that Iraq was providing more cooperation than it had in more than 10 years.
"I would have welcomed more time."
He also expressed relief yesterday that he was able to withdraw all UN staff with Iraqi cooperation, given fears that they might be taken hostage. Iraqi assistance, he said on Tuesday, suggested a degree of goodwill and that he believed a forthcoming invasion would be met with relative restraint.
Mr Blix believes Iraq is technologically capable of developing chemical and biological weapons capable of striking US targets. But he doubted Saddam Hussein's regime would take any action that would build support for America.
Meanwhile, the diplomatic acrimony provoked by the American, British and Spanish decision to bypass the security council and declare war without UN support persisted.
The French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, told the council that war would exacerbate terrorism in the Middle East.
"To those who think that the scourge of terrorism will be eradicated through what is done in Iraq, we say that they run the risk of failing in their objective," he said.
"An outbreak of force in such an unstable area can only exacerbate the tensions and fractures on which terrorists feed."
The German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, said: "We have to state clearly under the current circumstance that the policy of military intervention has no credibility. There is no basis in the UN charter for a regime change with military means."
His Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, said no UN security council resolution authorised the use of force against Iraq outside the UN charter, and "not one of them authorises the violent overthrow of the leadership of a sovereign state".
He said if there were a great threat to the security of the US "then Russia, without any hesitation would use all the means available provided under the UN charter to eliminate such a threat".
"However, the security council today is not in possession of such facts," he said, in a reference to the Bush administration's linkage of terrorism to the Iraqi government.
While the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Syria, Guinea and Russia attended the meeting, their British and American colleagues stayed away.
The US effectively declared the meeting irrelevant. But behind the scenes the two sides attempted to restore cooperation, shifting their attention to the humanitarian work that would have to be undertaken after the war ended.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003