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Baghdad Plays Down Differences With U.N.

Iraq sought Tuesday to play down differences with the United Nations over arms inspections, arguing that U-2 reconnaissance flights and private interviews with scientists are the only issues left unresolved.

U.N. inspectors in Iraq, meanwhile, continued their hunt for evidence of biological, nuclear and chemical arms, visiting at least seven sites, including a munitions depot where they discovered empty chemical warheads earlier this month.

Elsewhere, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., that Iraq had no plans to attack targets inside the United States in the event of war. Nonetheless, Aziz warned that Iraqis would vigorously defend themselves if the Americans launch a war.

"I would say that if the Americans try to invade Iraq, they will be fought courageously and effectively and they will have a great number of casualties," Aziz said.

Asked whether President Saddam Hussein's government would strike against other countries, presumably Israel, Aziz replied: "No. We will fight within our territory." Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles, all with conventional warheads, at Israeli cities in the 1991 Gulf War.

But Aziz hinted that those restrictions would not apply to Kuwait, which Iraq invaded in 1990. The United States is assembling a large force in the neighboring emirate for a possible war.

"American troops are in Kuwait and preparing themselves to attack Iraq," Aziz said. "If there will be an attack from Kuwait, I cannot say that we will not retaliate."

The United States and Britain dismiss Iraq's claims that it holds no weapons of mass destruction and have threatened war if Saddam does not give them up.

On Tuesday, the U.N. inspectors visited a military depot south of Baghdad where they discovered 12 empty chemical warheads Jan. 16. They returned to the depot last week to tag weapons there, but it was not immediately known why they went there again Tuesday.

Other teams inspected colleges in Baghdad and the city of Babil, a missiles maintenance workshop, a grain test laboratory to the north and three companies in and around the capital that specialize in mechanical industries and agricultural equipment.

Fears of a new war heightened after chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix told the U.N. Security Council on Monday that Iraq "appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament that was demanded of it."

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the U.N. nuclear agency, gave a more positive assessment of Iraq's cooperation, but said he needed a "few months" to give the process time to avert a war.

In an interview published Tuesday, Egypt's president sternly warned Saddam to avoid any missteps in dealing with U.N. inspectors.

"The strike is coming - coming unless Iraq abides by the resolutions of international legitimacy and ceases to put obstacles in front of the international inspection operations," Hosni Mubarak said in an interview with the United Arab Emirates daily newspaper Al-Itihad.

During his interview with CBC, however, Aziz said cited the two issues of spy flights and private interviews with scientists as the only unresolved issues.

"All other aspects of cooperation have been met and we promised to be more forthcoming in the future replying to all their needs in the way that will satisfy them," Aziz said.

Iraq says U-2 flights during inspections in the 1990s spied on Iraq's conventional weapons defenses. It also says it is doing all it can to persuade the scientists to be interviewed in private, but that they are resisting because they fear the information will be distorted.

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has accused the Iraqi government of threatening scientists with death if they speak to inspectors without an Iraqi official present.

The different interpretations of Iraq's cooperation have set the stage for intensive diplomatic wrangling over how much time the inspectors should be given to finish their work before consideration of military action. France, Russia, Germany and others want to grant inspectors as much time as they need, a process that could take months.

However, the U.S. military is not anxious to fight a war in Iraq during the broiling summer months, when heat and sandstorms could make combat operations difficult.

President Bush is expected to offer some indication of the U.S. position during his State of the Union address late Tuesday.

Following Blix and ElBaradei's comments Monday, Secretary of State Colin Powell warned that Saddam has "not much more time" to show genuine cooperation with the inspectors.

However, China, Russia, France, Germany and Syria said they currently see no cause for war.