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UN Arms Expert Says Iraq Talks 'Very Substantial'
Sat February 8, 2003 02:14 PM ET
By Hassan Hafidh and Emma Thomasson
BAGHDAD/MUNICH (Reuters) - Chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix called new disarmament talks with Iraqi officials on Saturday "very substantial," as the United States rebuked European allies for their reluctance to back war on Baghdad.
Blix and chief U.N. atomic expert Mohamed ElBaradei opened two days of talks in Baghdad as they prepared to present a fresh report to the U.N. Security Council next Friday that could start a countdown to war.
In Germany, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a security conference the world was serious about disarming Baghdad. He rounded on France, Germany and Belgium for "inexcusable" stalling of NATO moves to help protect Turkey from any war in its neighbor Iraq.
Apparently undeterred, Germany announced a new Franco-German initiative to try to avert military conflict. A German magazine reported it involved sending thousands of U.N. peace-keeping troops to Iraq and trebling the number of arms inspectors.
But President Bush appeared to be preparing his nation for war in a radio address: "The United States, along with a growing coalition of nations, will take whatever action is necessary to defend ourselves and disarm the Iraqi regime."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in an address at William and Mary College in Virginia, warned the United States against attacking Iraq on its own, saying collective action under a U.N. umbrella would have greater legitimacy and better odds of success.
A U.N. source in Baghdad said Iraqi had handed over documents to Blix and ElBaradei during their first round of talks on Saturday.
IRAQ HANDS OVER DOCUMENTS
"The Iraqi side gave us documents. We will work on them tonight and will discuss them tomorrow," the source said.
Blix and ElBaradei are in Baghdad for the first time since Secretary of State Colin Powell spelled out to the Security Council last Wednesday Washington's case against Iraq.
Blix categorized Saturday's talks as "very substantial."
ElBaradei said: "The Iraqi side is providing explanations on some of the issues. We have discussed the (U-2) surveillance flights, scientists' interviews as well as outstanding chemical, biological and missile issues."
"We have to see the results tomorrow," ElBaradei said, adding that there would be more talks on Sunday.
They have warned Iraq it must take drastic steps to avert a U.S.-led war to rid it of alleged weapons of mass destruction.
Babel, Iraq's most influential newspaper, said Baghdad would do its best to make the visit a success.
"No one wants war. War is never a first or an easy choice. But the risks of war need to be balanced against the risks of doing nothing while Iraq pursues weapons of mass destruction," Rumsfeld told the conference in the south German city of Munich.
"Clearly, momentum is building, momentum that sends a critically important message to the Iraqi regime -- about our seriousness of purpose and the world's determination that Iraq disarm.
"This is not months or years, this is days or weeks we're going to know whether they are going to cooperate," he said.
"He (Iraqi President Saddam Hussein) has not been contained, he is successfully getting into that country darn near everything he wants."
DEEP U.S.-EUROPEAN DIVISIONS
Laying bare deep U.S.-European divisions over Iraq, Rumsfeld said NATO's failure to agree on planning defense measures for alliance member Turkey risked undermining NATO's credibility.
Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of Germany, a firm opponent of war on Iraq, replied by insisting peace should be given a chance. He said Berlin stood by NATO obligations but wanted to wait until after the U.N. inspectors' report.
In Ankara, Prime Minister Abdullah Gul sought to ease concerns in Turkey about an unpopular war, saying it must be prepared if its close ally the United States struck neighboring Iraq.
Ankara has agreed to allow U.S. engineers to upgrade Turkish air bases and sea ports ahead of a parliamentary vote on February 18 to open the military facilities to U.S. forces in the event of a war.
Opinion polls show four out of five Turks oppose a possible war on a fellow Muslim state.
Confirming the Franco-German peace initiative, a German government spokesman said: "I can confirm that there are joint considerations on finding a peaceful alternative to a military solution to the Iraq conflict." He gave no details.
A report by news magazine Der Spiegel said the plan for U.N. troops to enforce disarmament was to be put to the Security Council. It would also involve stricter rules on exports to Iraq and an agreement with Iraq's neighbors to stop oil smuggling.
FRANCE SAYS WAR A LAST RESORT
French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said in Munich Paris had never ruled out military action to disarm Iraq, but it would have to be a last resort.
Amid the diplomatic moves for peace, Pope John Paul urged the world not to resign itself to war, declaring:
"We have to multiply efforts. We can't stop when faced with either terror attacks or the threats that are on the horizon. We should never resign ourselves, almost as if war is inevitable."
Amid a huge U.S. military buildup in the Gulf, Bush has said he would welcome a new U.N. resolution after one in November that warned of serious consequences if Iraq failed to comply.
Diplomats said a new Security Council resolution seeking international legitimacy for war might not include a deadline for Saddam to comply, or explicitly authorise force.
Defense and foreign ministers of six pro-Western Gulf Arab states agreed to send a joint force to Kuwait "as soon as possible" to defend it against any Iraqi attack in the event of war.
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