Published February 28, 2003
UNITED NATIONS – One day before a U.N. deadline, it remains to be seen whether Iraq will destroy its Al Samoud 2 missiles, which it has agreed to do "in principle."
The Iraqi claim surfaced Thursday after chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said Baghdad's disarmament efforts have been "very limited so far."
Blix returned to the United Nations Friday as his 17-page report on Iraqi disarmament compliance was delivered to Security Council members. Blix's deputy flew to Baghdad Thursday to talk to the Iraqis about how to destroy the missiles.
Asked if the tone of his report will change if the missiles aren't destroyed, Blix said: "The reality changes, my report changes."
Blix described Iraq's cooperation on disarmament as "very active."
"They've been digging quite a lot — dug-up bombs, fragments of bombs," he said. "It's a glass in which they pour more water."
In related news, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Friday that his country was ready to veto a U.S.-British resolution in the U.N. Security Council in the interests of preserving "international stability."
The U.S.-British resolution would authorize use of force against Iraq.
On Thursday, China and Russia appealed for more time for weapons inspections and issued a statement saying war "can and should be avoided."
On Friday, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Iraq's declaration showed that the inspection process was working. France has been leading international opposition to an immediate war.
The two sides — the Americans, British and Spanish on one side, the French, Russians, Chinese and Germans on the other — failed to reach agreement on key issues during a heated and bitter discussion in the Security Council on Thursday.
In a letter to Blix on Thursday, Iraq agreed "in principle" to destroy its Al Samoud 2 missiles, which were found to have a range exceeding the 93-mile limit set by the Security Council at the end of the 1991 Gulf War.
Three days earlier, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had indicated that he would not destroy the weapons.
Scheduled for destruction are all missiles and warheads, SA-2 missile engines, machinery to produce missile motors, fuel, launchers, testing equipment, components and all software and documentation about the Al Samoud program.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on Friday dismissed Iraq's missile announcement, saying, "this is the deception the president predicted," adding that the United Nations believes Iraq is actually still manufacturing the missiles.
"The discussion about these rockets is part of [Saddam's] campaign of deception," President Bush said Thursday. "See, he'll say, 'I'm not going to destroy the rockets,' and then he'll have a change of mind this weekend and destroy the rockets and say, 'I've disarmed.'"
Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday the missile pledge may end up being another Iraqi broken promise.
"I think it's just more indication of the reality that we have been trying to convey to the world," Powell said, "that Saddam Hussein is trying to string it out, trying to divert attention, trying to pretend he is cooperating when he is not cooperating, try[ing] to use process as an excuse for not cooperating and not complying with the will of the international community."
Iraq has argued that some of the missiles overshot the 150-kilometer limit because they were tested without warheads or guidance systems, which would have added weight and decreased operational range.
At the United Nations, diplomats said the lack of consensus and tone of the debate Thursday were demoralizing, but many hoped for compromise among the council's five veto-holding permanent members.
Chinese Ambassador Wang Yingfan hoped for a compromise "but I could see it's very difficult."
A senior U.S. diplomat hinted there may be some wiggle room.
"It's difficult to visualize many, if any, changes to it," the diplomat said, "but obviously if people have suggestions to make that preserve the integrity, the intent and purpose of that resolution ... I'm sure we'd be pleased to consider them."
Britain's Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said, "I would love to see a compromise."
Chile's Ambassador Gabriel Valdes said the divided permanent council members were "throwing the decision on the shoulders of the elected members" by refusing to compromise.
Greenstock said fresh British intelligence indicated Iraq was producing anthrax, sarin and other biological and chemical agents. He said missiles were being hidden and scientists were being threatened.
French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere said the majority of the council still opposed the draft resolution.
Powell said Thursday he believed the Security Council would pass the U.S.-backed resolution if Iraq did not quickly and dramatically improve compliance.
Blix's report says Saddam could have made greater efforts "to find remaining proscribed items or credible evidence showing the absence of such items."
But, "It is hard to understand why a number of the measures which are now being taken could not have been initiated earlier."
The report stresses that Iraq's cooperation "must be immediate, unconditional and active," warning that without such cooperation verifying the country's disarmament "will be problematic."
Support for the U.S.-backed resolution may be gained ground, with word Wednesday that Mexico might have moved away from its strong anti-war stance.
Iraq and the United States on Thursday each sent envoys to Pakistan, a fence-sitting Security Council non-permanent member, to state their cases.
Islamabad has not said it would support the U.S. resolution, although Pakistani diplomats said privately that the Muslim country would likely abstain. There was little possibility seen that Pakistan, heavily dependent on U.S. aid and support, would vote against the United States.
In Egypt, Arab nations worked Thursday to overcome long-standing rifts and forge a united stance on Iraq two days ahead of a crucial Arab League summit.
Anti-American sentiment among Arab people is strong, and an estimated 100,000 Egyptians staged an anti-war rally Thursday in Cairo. Arab and Muslim leaders have virtually conceded they can do little to stop the United States.
The Arab League meeting this weekend will likely see another attempt to urge both Saddam or the United States to avoid war. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou planned to attend the summit.
"I would encourage [the Arab League] to issue the strongest possible statement to Saddam Hussein that he must comply," Powell said Thursday. "Or suggest to him that ... it might be in his best interests to step down and get out of the way and let some responsible leadership take over in Baghdad."
From Cairo, the European Union's External Affairs Commissioner, Chris Patten, said the Arab League and European Union "sent very clear and strong messages to Baghdad."
"The problem is I'm not sure whether Saddam Hussein has the radio switched on," Patten conceded.
Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, after stops in Bulgaria and Romania, was in Slovakia on Friday to shore up support among Europe's eastern newcomers after French President Jacques Chirac told them to "keep quiet" on their pro-Washington stance on Iraq.
"We're just making the point that it's not inconsistent to be a loyal member of the EU ... and also be a friend and ally of the United States," Evans said.
Fox News' Teri Schultz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.