The response to US Secretary of State Colin Powell's statement to the United Nations on Wednesday has been remarkably balanced between those who believe that the evidence he produced showed conclusively that Iraq is in breach of UN Resolution 1441 and those who question whether the mix of sound tapes, fuzzy satellite images and evidence from unnamed sources can be relied upon to justify America's push for early military action. That there should clearly still be people who remain to be convinced of the strength of the American case despite Mr Powell's advocacy is mainly because the Bush administration is not trusted 100 per cent to tell the truth. That this should be so is regrettable but there have been too many proven instances in the past two years of half-truths that have been presented as whole-truths by Washington. There was an example in Mr Powell's statement at the United Nations. When talking about the link between Iraq and the terrorist activities of an Al-Qaeda cell in Western Europe, he said: “The plot also targetted Britain...When the British unearthed a cell there just last month, one British police officer was murdered during the disruption of the cell.” The reference was to the death of Stephen Oake in Manchester but British security and police sources said yesterday that Mr Powell had “jumped to conclusions” which they themselves had not yet reached. Had Mr Powell checked with the British government? A small point, perhaps, but indicative of the risks of claiming too much from partial or incomplete evidence.

RAY FLEMING

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