Sunday 23 February 2003
Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix has issued an ultimatum to Iraq to start destroying its stock of banned missiles within a week but according to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei, Baghdad is still not co-operating fully over arms inspections.
By imposing a deadline of March 1 for Baghdad to begin the demolition of its Al-Samud 2 missiles and warheads, Blix has thrown down the gauntlet for Iraq to provide rapid proof of its good faith and willingness to comply with UN demands on disarmament.
The ultimatum is being viewed as a key test of the assertion by diplomatic sources in Baghdad that "the Iraqis are ready to respond to all of Blix's demands".
But it leaves Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein facing a dilemma, observers said. Getting rid of the missiles would deprive Iraq of a key arm in its defence against a US-led attack, while failure to destroy could be used by Washington and London as a justification for war.
The United States and Britain are planning to submit a new draft resolution to the UN Security Council, probably as early as Monday, to give them the authority to attack if Iraq is not complying with UN demands.
Blix's order came in a four-page letter "concerning the destruction of the Al-Samud 2 missiles and associated equipment" which was delivered to the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed al-Douri. A copy was sent to the Security Council, spokesman Ewen Buchanan said.
Earlier this week, the head of one of Iraq's missile factories said 50 Al-Samuds had been delivered to the Iraqi army and another 50 were on the assembly line.
Blix told the UN Security Council on February 14 that two declared variants of the Al-Samud were banned under Council Resolution 687, which imposed a 150-kilometre (93-mile) limit on the range of Iraqi ballistic missiles.
The resolution, which defined the terms of the Gulf War ceasefire in April 1991, required Iraq to scrap missiles beyond that range -- along with its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons -- under international supervision.
However, in Tehran, where he is on a delicate mission to inspect Iranian sites Washington suspects are hiding a nuclear weapons programme, ElBaradei said: "We have not yet finished our work and Iraq is not yet fully cooperating with us.
"We particularly don't have full access to Iraqi scientists and we hope that Iraq would cooperate in the coming weeks."
US President George W. Bush was holding talks with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, one of his strongest supporters on Iraq, at his Texas ranch to discuss the wording of the latest UN resolution.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair had a 30-minute private audience with Pope John Paul II, one of the staunchest opponents of military strikes on Baghdad, at the Vatican.
The head of the Roman Catholic Church urged Blair to make "every effort" to avoid going to war against Iraq as he came face-to-face with a leading protagonist of a military assault on Baghdad for the first time.
"The Holy Father hoped that, in finding a solution to the grave situation in Iraq, every effort be made to avoid new divisions in the world," the Vatican said.
Turkey was nearing an agreement with Washington for use of its strategic bases, ports and territory in an invasion.
Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis had said in Ankara that the two nations were "quite close" to a deal that would open his country to US troops and materiel, providing a vital northern flank for any invasion of neighboring Iraq. "If there is a will, this could be finalized by working on Saturday and Sunday," he said.
Gulf newspapers on Saturday accused Bush of being a "fanatical dictator" who wants to get hold of Iraqi oil reserves.
"To pretend that America's goal is not to invade Iraq and lay its hands on its oil is a new trap designed to deceive a world public opinion that has understood the mentality" of Bush, the Saudi newspaper Al-Riyadh said.
The Emirati daily Al-Bayan compared Bush to Saddam Hussein, saying the United States was run by a "fanatical and stubborn dictatorship which only sees things from its point of view".
Bush was more dangerous than Saddam, the paper said, "because he has the biggest nuclear arsenal in the world and is threatening international peace and stability."
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak expressed fears that it was already too late to avoid a war in Iraq, as American and British troops in the region were already on a war footing.
"American and British troops are already on a war footing in the region, that's a big problem. Will they be prepared to withdraw if Saddam Hussein shows that he no longer has weapons of mass destruction?" he said in an interview in the German magazine Der Spiegel.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer called for non-military methods to be used to resolve the crisis over Iraq, stressing that such methods had not yet been adequately tried.
"We must rely on non-military methods -- and they have not yet been all tried," he said. "War should only be a last resort, and not the next step to resolve the crisis."
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