UNITED NATIONS – Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix is likely to order the destruction of Iraq's Al Samoud 2 missiles after experts determined their range exceeds U.N. resolutions, U.N. sources and diplomats said Wednesday.
But he still must decide what to do about illegally imported rocket engines for the Al Samoud and casting chambers for missile motors that previous inspectors destroyed but Baghdad repaired and reactivated, sources and diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
Blix is expected to send a letter to Iraq in the coming days with his decisions.
This week, U.N. inspectors have visited numerous missile-related sites throughout Iraq. Al Samoud missiles, which exceed the maximum 93-mile range, and related items have been located and tagged for an inventory.
Destroying the Al Samoud missiles would present a serious dilemma for Iraq, which would be required to give up a valuable weapons system at a time it faces the prospect of a U.S.-led invasion. If Iraq refuses, however, that would likely confirm U.S. and British charges that Baghdad is refusing to disarm.
The Iraqis have insisted that the Al Samoud 2 is within the legal limits established by the United Nations and that some of the missiles traveled beyond that range simply because they were tested without warheads or guidance systems, which made them lighter.
Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri said his government would like a joint committee to verify the distance the al-Samoud can fly.
"The missile experts have determined that the Al Samoud is over the 150-kilometer (93 mile) range, and thus we believe it should be destroyed," said Richard Grenell, spokesman for U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte.
Blix said he wanted international experts, not just his own, to study the technical issues regarding Iraq's missile programs. He said he also wanted U.N. lawyers to look at the legal side of the matter.
Last week, the missile experts concluded unanimously that two variants of the Al Samoud 2 were capable of exceeding 93 miles. "This missile is therefore proscribed for Iraq," Blix told the council on Friday.
He said the experts confirmed that the casting chambers could still be used to produce motors for missiles capable of ranges "significantly greater" than 93 miles. "Accordingly, these chambers remain proscribed," he said.
In January, Blix reported that despite an arms embargo, Iraq had imported 380 rocket engines for the Al Samoud 2 as well as chemicals used in propellants, test instruments, and guidance and control systems.
He told the council Friday that since the Al Samoud 2 "has now been assessed to be proscribed any such engines configured for use in this missile system would also be proscribed."