BAGHDAD, Iraq – Looking to clear away obstacles to a clean U.N. report, Iraq may consider enlisting foreigners as witnesses for Iraqi weapons scientists who refuse to submit to secret U.N. interviews.
"It is an interesting idea that we shall explore," presidential adviser Amir al-Saadi said Monday of the proposal, by European Parliament members, to overcome weapons inspectors' belief that scientists are intimidated by the presence of Iraqi officials during questioning.
Al-Saadi was preparing for talks this coming weekend with U.N. chief inspectors, who want concessions from Baghdad on interviews and other disputes in the search for forbidden arms in Iraq. Just days later, the inspectors will report to the U.N. Security Council on Iraqi cooperation -- a report that will influence the diplomatic debate over war and peace.
Talk of war again dominated one of President Saddam Hussein's frequent nightly sessions with Iraqi military commanders, broadcast on national television.
Saddam speculated Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, which as a colonial power faced Iraqi rebels in the 1920s, was warning President Bush against going to war with Iraq.
"Britain will be rewarded by God and by humanity if they make the Americans see the light," the Iraqi leader told top officers gathered at a conference table.
The U.N. inspections resumed in November, after a four-year gap, to search for any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons programs. During the 1990s, previous U.N. teams oversaw destruction of the great bulk of such weapons of mass destruction and their production programs in Iraq, under U.N. resolutions adopted after Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War.
Bush, repeatedly signaling impatience with the U.N. inspection process, has threatened a military attack on Iraq if, in Washington's view, it has not sufficiently disarmed.
Britain's Blair backs the tough U.S. line, but seems to favor -- more than Bush does -- relying on authorization of military action from the U.N. Security Council.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia, which has veto power in the council, expressed a go-slow sentiment again Monday, saying inspections seem to be working, "so far there is no need" for a new U.N. resolution condemning Iraq, and "the use of force is the most extreme case."
Arab leaders, meanwhile, are planning to move forward a summit conference -- to February from March -- to make a last-ditch call for Baghdad to cooperate more fully with weapons inspectors and possibly avert a U.S. war, regional diplomats told The Associated Press.
The Bush administration will make a bid for new Security Council support on Wednesday, when Secretary of State Colin Powell is to present what is billed as fresh evidence of banned weapons programs in Iraq -- something the U.N. teams have not found thus far in hundreds of on-the-ground inspections.
Baghdad government officials contend Powell's material will consist of fabricated reconnaissance photos and other questionable items. "It will be a mixture of high-tech pictures and transcripts of telephone conversations by so-called Iraqi officials," Lt. Gen. al-Saadi said Monday, talking to reporters after a session with the visiting European Parliament members.
Al-Saadi is expected to be a principal negotiator with chief U.N. inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei when they return to Baghdad on Saturday for two days of talks to resolve lingering disputes over practical arrangements in the inspections.
Another senior Iraqi official indicated Sunday that Baghdad is eager to reach agreements. "We shall do our best to make his (Blix's) visit successful," Maj. Gen. Hossam Mohamed Amin said. Such progress could forestall U.S. moves to short-circuit the inspection process.
The inspectors believe Iraqi scientists and other experts would be more candid about possible illicit weapons work if U.N. interviews were not monitored by Iraqi officials. But all potential Iraqi witnesses approached thus far for private interviews have refused unless a witness was present.
The European lawmakers suggested that non-Iraqis, instead, sit in on interviews, and al-Saadi said the idea would be considered.
But he added, "It's the choice of ... those who are being asked for private interviews."
Iraq and the U.N. inspectors also have not been able to finalize arrangements for American U-2 reconnaissance planes to fly in support of the U.N. inspection mission.
The Iraqis say they cannot guarantee the high-flying planes' safety if the United States and Britain don't halt combat patrols over southern and northern Iraq during such surveillance flight. Iraqi air defense forces will not be able to differentiate between neutral and hostile flights, they say.
In a separate development Monday, al-Saadi said Iraq and the United Nations have begun discussions on use of lower-flying reconnaissance drones -- unmanned aircraft -- in support of the U.N. teams. The drones would be supplied by Germany and be operated by German crews.
The U.N. inspectors say a third issue also needs quick resolution: movement toward passage of Iraqi legislation outlawing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons on Iraqi soil.