WASHINGTON -- The United Nations Security Council condemned the flagrant defiance of Saddam Hussein yesterday as Iraq refused to allow the destruction of ballistic missile equipment, pending the dispatch of a high-level Iraqi government mission to the United Nations in March.
Iraq's government, facing a deadline of yesterday afternoon to respond to the council, delivered a letter that U.S. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering characterized as "seven pages of 'no' " to U.N. demands that the Iraqis allow inspectors to destroy machinery used to assemble Scud missiles.
In a sharply worded statement read by Mr. Pickering, its president this month, the council declared the letter from Iraq to be unacceptable.
The council "deplored and condemned" Iraq's continued defiance of U.N. resolutions. Mr. Pickering said that council members want the Iraqi delegation to come to New York "without further delay."
Repeating earlier warnings made by the council, he said that the Iraqi government "must be aware of serious consequences" if it continues to refuse to comply with council demands.
The statement told the Iraqis that they did not have the option to bargain with U.N. inspectors over which material should be destroyed.
Iraq's latest moves climaxed a recent period of intransigence and presaged a tense impasse in March when Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz will lead a delegation planning to plead Iraqi's case to the council. Mr. Aziz has not set a firm date for his visit.
The Iraqis have made clear in recent letters and discussions with U.N. officials that they want the council to start easing economic sanctions, give up plans to monitor Iraq's weapons programs indefinitely and allow Iraq to keep materials, such as the Scud-manufacturing equipment, for supposed peaceful uses.
All three requests are anathema to the Bush administration and are sure to be rejected by the Security Council.
But Iraq's latest foot-dragging and the prospects for further impasse raised the question of what action the council could take to force the Iraqis to comply with all U.N. resolutions.
In the past, Iraqi defiance has melted in the face of threats of renewed military action by the United States. But the Iraqis may believe that such an attack is less likely in the midst of a U.S. election campaign.
Asked about the possibility of a military strike, Mr. Pickering repeated the reply he has made to such questions for many weeks: "No option has been ruled in or ruled out."
Talking with reporters outside the Security Council chambers, Samir Nima, the acting Iraqi ambassador, defended Iraq's insistence that it keep some of the ballistic missile equipment for civilian use.
"We believe this is a legitimate request," said Mr. Nima, adding that an opportunity should be allowed "to build mutual trust to ensure that Iraq will be able to implement its obligations."
In its letter, the Iraqi government wanted to be able to retain Scud missiles with a range below that barred by the U.N.
The latest difficulties with Iraq arose a few weeks ago when Rolf Ekeus, chairman of the special U.N. commission overseeing the destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, reported that Iraq had repeatedly ignored requests that it acknowledge its willingness to comply with a U.N. resolution authorizing indefinite inspection of Iraq.