WASHINGTON -- The U.N. Security Council warned Iraq last night of "serious consequences" if it fails to cooperate with international scrutiny and destruction of its dangerous-weapon programs after Iraqi guards fired into the air to block a U.N. inspection of a storage site while spiriting out suspected nuclear arms equipment.
Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar dispatched a team to demand from the highest levels of the Iraqi government "unequivocal assurances" that the United Nations-ordered inspections and dismantling of nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs proceed unimpeded.
It said that "any recurrence of non-compliance would have serious consequences."
President Bush said there was "incontrovertible" proof that Iraq had violated the cease-fire terms ending the Persian Gulf war, and the State Department said the United States and its allies still had authority under U.N. resolutions to use military force against Iraq.
"The diplomatic process has to start," the president said aboard Air Force One en route to Kennebunkport, Maine. "We can't, from the U.S. standpoint, permit this brutal bully to go back on what was a solemn agreement and to threaten people who are there under U.N. jurisdiction.
"The man has no shame," Mr. Bush added, referring to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Yesterday's incident was the third this week in which Iraqi guards blocked inspections of storage sites and, according to inspectors, moved equipment away.
Hours after the incident produced a U.S. statement of outrage and preparations for new U.N. action, Mr. Hussein ordered his officials to cooperate with future inspections.
"The president has ordered all responsible authorities to cooperate in full with the U.N. representatives and make their mission easy in line with commitments pledged by Iraq," the Iraqi News Agency said.
But this failed to satisfy either the Bush administration or the Security Council.
"This was an obligation which they had all along since they accepted the terms of the cease-fire," an administration official said.
Another official noted that cooperation with inspectors was only half of what the Security Council president had demanded of Iraq at a session with its U.N. ambassador Thursday; it also must disclose the full extent of its nuclear-weapons program and the sites where any equipment or material is stored.
Mr. Hussein's pledge of cooperation, the official said, was "the cheapest part of the deal."
Intelligence disclosures since the gulf war ended have revealed a more extensive nuclear-weapons development program than U.S. officials had believed existed, as well as strenuous Iraqi efforts to hide it.
"They're keeping one step ahead of the inspectors," an official said.
In the incidents this week, U.S. officials say, Iraq has sought to hide key components of electromagnetic isotope separation machines. The separation process is a crude, unsophisticated form of enriching uranium for use as a nuclear-weapon fuel.
"The worst-case scenario is that they had enough to fabricate a couple of bombs," said John E. Pike of the Federation of American Scientists.
The U.N. inspectors, after arriving at a military transportation facility yesterday morning, "observed vehicles within the compound loaded with the objects which they specifically desired to inspect under the terms of the Security Council resolution," according to a letter sent to Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar.
"After some minutes, drivers were seen moving quickly to the vehicles which then began leaving the facility through an exit to the south.
"A small number of the team members were directed by the team leader towards that exit to observe and photograph the vehicle movements. At that time the Iraqi military fired small arms into the air and efforts were made to seize the cameras."
Inspectors photographed the vehicles and their cargo leaving the site, according to the letter, written by Rolf Ekeus, the Swedish executive chairman of the U.N. Special Commission in charge of removing Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
U.S. officials say they don't know whether the equipment moved in the incidents this week is all that Iraq possesses and predict a lengthy process of attempting to make sure it has all been accounted for.