Iraq Agrees to U-2 Surveillance Flights

Iraq on Monday agreed to allow U.N. inspectors to use U.S.-made U-2 surveillance planes, a key demand made by those searching for weapons of mass destruction.

The concession came a day after the chief U.N. weapons inspectors left Baghdad after a weekend of talks, saying they sensed a "good beginning" and a changed "positive attitude" on the part of the Iraqi government.

Iraq sent a letter to inspectors approving the flyovers and pledged to pass legislation next week outlawing the use of weapons of mass destruction, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations said.

"The inspectors are now free to use the American U-2s as well as French and Russian planes," Ambassador Mohamed al-Douri told The Associated Press.

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "The bottom line is the president is interested in disarmament. This does nothing to change that."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher wasn't too enthusiastic either about Iraq's last-minute acquiescence on U-2 flights.

"The point, I think, is to judge Iraq on the basis of the resolution, not to judge them against other standards of progress or a change of hearts," Boucher said. "The issue is really, is Iraq providing answers? Dealing with the facts of the matter, is Iraq providing complete and open cooperation?"

International weapons inspectors had insisted on the flights, but Iraq has obstructed efforts to start the missions, insisting they would need to know in advance when and where the flights would take place.

In Baghdad, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein said he did not know what more to do to stop American "aggression."

Iraq had blocked the use of the planes, which inspectors said they needed in their search for banned weapons, unless the United States and Britain suspended air patrols over northern and southern Iraq while the U-2 was aloft.

Al-Douri delivered the letter to the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, run at U.N. headquarters by Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector.

President Bush said Monday that Iraq was positioning troops in civilian areas in a plan to "blame coalition forces" for casualties in the event of war.

"Saddam Hussein regards the Iraqi people as human shields, entirely expendable, when their suffering serves his purposes," Bush told an audience of religious broadcasters in Nashville, Tenn. "America views the Iraqi people as human beings who have suffered long enough."

Bush spoke amid a flurry of diplomatic activity as the United States, its reluctant allies and Baghdad itself sought to sway world opinion.

France, Russia and Germany issued a joint declaration Monday calling for strengthened U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq. French President Jacques Chirac, reading the declaration in the presence of visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin, said waging war to achieve to neutralize Saddam's weapon's capability should be considered only as a last resort.

The division was also reflected at NATO, where France, Germany and Belgium blocked plans for the defense of Turkey against possible Iraqi attack from being drawn up.

France formally vetoed the effort and was backed by Belgium and Germany. They argued that supporting NATO's efforts would force the crisis into a "logic of war."

Later Monday, Turkey requested emergency consultations under NATO's mutual defense treaty, believed to be the first time in the 53-year history of the alliance any nation has done so.

Blix was on his way back to New York after a two-day visit to Baghdad, where he met with Iraqi officials in any effort to iron out problems and try to enhance Iraqi cooperation with inspections.

Al-Douri said legislation outlawing doomsday weapons would be passed next week and that Iraq would continue to encourage scientists to accept private interviews with inspectors seeking information about Iraq's weapons programs.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz on NBC's Today Show that Iraq is ready to offer "specific answers" to direct questions on banned weapons.

"I have to tell you — and I want the American public to listen to this very carefully: If Mr. Bush is genuinely concerned about weapons of mass destruction, he should give weapons inspectors enough time to continue their work," he said.

Blix's counterpart at the International Atomic Energy Agency said earlier Monday that he expected the Iraqis to agree to the reconnaissance flights.

"I think we are expecting U-2 surveillance … will be adopted as soon as possible," Mohamed ElBaradei said in Vienna, Austria, Monday after his return trip from Baghdad.

ElBaradei also said the Iraqis agreed to other key demands that he and Blix had pushed for during their trip, as well.

"There was a commitment they will fully comply" with the inspections regime, ElBaradei said. "We made progress on all the areas we asked for."

He said the Iraqis also promised to pass a law banning proscribed weapons.

"I think we got, at least in the area I'm responsible for — nuclear — commitment for all that we asked for. But we have to test that of course," ElBaradei said.

Earlier in the day, ElBaradei's spokesman said Iraq had agreed to allow U.N. inspectors to analyze the sites where it claims to have destroyed old chemical and biological weapons.

"Iraq has offered to allow the inspectors to thoroughly investigate and analyze the sites where they claim to have destroyed chemical and biological weapons," said Mark Gwozdecky, the spokesman.

Iraq said the inspectors, accompanied by Iraqi officials, would be allowed to drill and analyze the findings, Gwozdecky said.

Fox News' Teri Schultz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.