Iraq agreed "in principle" Thursday to destroy its Al Samoud 2 missiles, as the chief U.N. weapons inspector had ordered, U.N. officials and diplomats told The Associated Press.

The diplomats and officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Iraqi agreement came in a letter to chief inspector Hans Blix saying that "in principle they agreed to the destruction of the missiles."

Blix has ordered the Iraqis to begin destroying the missiles and their components by Saturday.

Iraqi officials had not said until now whether they would comply with the order. Iraq has disputed findings by a panel of U.N. experts that found the missiles exceeded a 93-mile range limit set by the Security Council at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

But it wasn't immediately clear whether Iraq's letter constituted an unconditional acceptance, according to officials in Blix's office.

Iraq's compliance with Blix's order will be a key test for Security Council members who are bitterly divided over whether Iraq can still be disarmed peacefully.

Blix also told reporters earlier this week that the missile issue would be a key test of Iraq's cooperation.

While Blix has noted some recent Iraqi cooperation, he lamented in his report: "It is hard to understand why a number of the measures which are now being taken could not have been initiated earlier."

"If they had been taken earlier, they might have borne fruit by now," he wrote.