BAGHDAD, Iraq – Three days ahead of a key report by U.N. arms inspectors, Iraq says it still can't meet a key U.N. demand: that Baghdad persuade its own scientists to submit to private interviews with the inspectors.
"We did our best to push the scientists," Lt. Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin, the chief Iraqi liaison officer to the U.N. inspection teams, said Thursday. "But they refused to make such interviews without the presence of (Iraqi) officials."
But deputy U.S. Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz charged that Iraq had threatened to kill its scientists if they cooperated with U.N. weapons inspectors.
Meanwhile, foreign ministers of six countries neighboring Iraq urged Baghdad to cooperate fully with U.N. weapons inspectors to avoid a war as Germany, France and Russia said they oppose a U.S. attack.
The ministers from Turkey, Syria, Iran, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia — met in Istanbul and urged Iraq to "demonstrate a more active approach" in providing information on its weapons programs "in full conformity" with U.N. resolutions.
Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on Friday echoed their call, but said his country was concerned about the risks of a military venture.
German and French officials were outraged Wednesday when U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said they represented "old Europe" and said newer members of NATO would back the United States in a military strike.
Amin also reported no progress on another important U.N. request — that Iraq allow American U-2 reconnaissance planes to assist the inspection effort. Iraq said similar flights in the past had spied on Iraq's defenses and passed on the information to the CIA.
Chief arms inspector Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the U.N. atomic agency, are scheduled to present a report to the U.N. Security Council on Monday detailing Iraq's compliance with a stringent U.N. resolution adopted in November. The resolution gives arms inspectors the right to search for evidence of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons anywhere in Iraq.
In New York, Blix said Thursday his teams are gaining access to sites but Baghdad still isn't fully cooperating with the inspectors.
"I realize there are things that have gone well like access and setting up infrastructure. But there are other areas where we are not satisfied and the U-2 is one of them," Blix said.
The United States has been pressing for private interviews, including some outside Iraq, in the hope that scientists would be more forthcoming with information about banned weapons programs. Iraq claims those programs no longer exist.
In a 10-point agreement announced Monday, the Iraqis promised Blix and ElBaradei that they would "encourage" scientists to agree to private interviews. However, Amin said a half-dozen scientists had so far refused to do so.
During a speech Thursday to the Council on Foreign Relations, Wolfowitz said Iraqi scientists fear for their lives if they speak to inspectors privately.
"Today we know from multiple sources that Saddam has ordered that any scientist who cooperates during interviews will be killed, as well as their families," he said.
Wolfowitz also said Iraq was tutoring scientists on what to say and that Iraqi intelligence officers were posing as scientists to be interviewed.
Unresolved issues between the United Nations and Iraq also include Baghdad's refusal to allow reconnaissance flights by American U-2 aircraft. Amin said that all his government wanted were "safeguards" — which he did not specify — "to secure our right to defend our sky and our ground."
He noted that Iraqi air defenses repeatedly clash with U.S. and British warplanes patrolling no-fly zones in southern and northern Iraq since 1991. The U-2 overflights would "complicate the air defense project," he said.
Amin alluded to U-2 flights under a former U.N. arms inspections regime in the 1990s. "It has been proven that the plane was spying on our conventional defense capabilities and passing on the information to the CIA," he said.
With tensions rising, foreign embassies in Iraq are considering withdrawing diplomats and their families. Diplomats said they were awaiting Blix's report to gauge prospects for war.
Pakistan's ambassador in Iraq said that the fear of war has led several diplomatic missions in Baghdad to either send dependents home or close completely.
"There have been general discussions about evacuation in the diplomatic community, but the decisions are individual ones by individual embassies," the ambassador, Manzar Shafiq, said.