BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq agreed Monday to allow U-2 surveillance flights over its territory, meeting a key demand by U.N. inspectors searching for banned weapons as European opposition to American military action mounted.
President Bush, however, brushed aside Iraqi concessions as too little, too late.
"This is a man who is trying to stall for time," he said after a meeting with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch U.S. ally against Iraq. "The reason we need to fly U-2 flights is they're not disarming."
Iraq's acceptance of the U-2 flights, as well as its submission of new documents to the United Nations over the weekend, marked Baghdad's latest step to stave off a U.S.-led attack and convince other governments that it was now ready to cooperate in full with U.N. inspectors.
Key European governments insist that Iraq's cooperation is sufficient to allow inspections to continue and delay military action. On Monday, France, Germany and Belgium vetoed a U.S.-backed measure to authorize NATO to make plans to protect Turkey in the event of attack by Iraq.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the United States and willing allies would plan to help Turkey "outside of NATO if necessary."
In a joint statement later Monday, France, Germany and Russia called for more inspectors to disarm Iraq without resorting to war.
"Nothing today justifies a war," French President Jacques Chirac said at a news conference in Paris with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "This region really does not need another war."
Britain joined the United States in dismissing the call to strengthen U.N. weapons inspections, insisting that even "a thousandfold" increase in the number of inspectors wouldn't guarantee Saddam's disarmament.
"If Saddam bows to the U.N. demand and cooperates promptly, what is the need for greater numbers of inspectors?" British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in a prepared speech to the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, released by the Foreign Office.
With the threat of war looming large, Baghdad appeared eager to display new cooperation with the inspectors in hopes of encouraging opposition to an imminent military strike. The announcement came days after five Iraqi scientists gave private interviews to the U.N. weapons inspectors.
"The inspectors are now free to use the American U-2s as well as French and Russian planes," Mohamed al-Douri, Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, told The Associated Press in New York.
In a letter sent Monday to U.N. weapons inspectors, Iraq also pledged to pass legislation next week outlawing the use of weapons of mass destruction,
On Sunday, chief U.N. weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei said they sensed a positive Iraqi attitude during weekend talks in Baghdad though they acknowledged they had achieved no "breakthrough."
Blix and ElBaradei had said they expected agreement on the surveillance flight issue by the end of the week. It was unclear whether U-2s have been flying over Iraq as part of secret U.S. intelligence-gathering.
Now that Iraq has given its consent, the high-flying planes can operate over the country with Baghdad's permission and provide their findings to U.N. inspectors.
Iraq had objected to such flights as long as U.S. and British jets continued patrols in the "no-fly" zones.
On Monday, U.S. and British bombed a surface-to-air missile site Monday in the southern no-fly zone, the U.S. military said. The Iraqi News Agency reported two civilians were killed and nine others were wounded.
Iraqi forces regularly shoot at allied aircraft patrolling the northern and southern no-fly zones that Washington and London say are designed to protect Shiite Muslims and Kurds.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher described the Iraqi moves as tactical retreats. He said Iraq still had not indicated whether it would comply quickly and fully with U.N. disarmament demands.
Britain's U.N. ambassador, Jeremy Greenstock, said Iraq's latest moves indicated "some progress on procedure" but "that doesn't add up to the real change in Iraq's attitude that we're looking for."
Blix and ElBaradei report on Friday to the U.N. Security Council about their weekend talks in Baghdad. The report will help the U.N. Security Council decide whether to support a new resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.
Many on the council are waiting to hear the reports before deciding whether to allow the inspectors more time or move toward a military solution.
Britain, America's staunchest ally, is preparing a new resolution that would authorize force against Iraq, diplomats have said, and Bush has said "the game is up" for Iraq.
However, the use of military force faces strong opposition among key U.S. allies such as France and Germany, where opinion polls show overwhelming majorities of the populations support a peaceful solution.
Those divisions widened Monday at the NATO meeting in Brussels. France, Germany and Belgium argued that supporting NATO's efforts would force the Iraq crisis into a "logic of war."
Turkey responded by invoking a clause in NATO's mutual defense treaty requiring immediate consultations. It was the first time in 53 years that a member of the Atlantic alliance publicly activated the emergency measure.
Turkey, the only Muslim member of NATO, fears retaliation from neighboring Iraq because it has authorized the United States to renovate bases on its soil that could be used in an attack on Iraq.