| An anti-war protester holds an upside-down US flag reading: “Lives are worth more than oil” at the Dupont Circle, Washington, DC. (AFP)
Vienna, Sept. 30 (Reuters): The US hit determined opposition from Russia and France over its stance on Iraq today, threatening its bid for tough new UN-imposed arms inspection rules as experts met in Vienna to discuss them.
Russia and France, both with veto powers in the United Nations Security Council which is to consider a US-drafted resolution on Iraq, separately rebuked Washington.
Russia rapped Washington for sending its warplanes to strike a southern Iraq target yesterday, while France slammed the threat of military force contained in the US draft proposal at the UN.
China, which like the US and Britain also holds a veto given to the five permanent members in the 15-nation Security Council, also remained sceptical of the US proposal.
An envoy from Britain, Washington’s closest ally in its campaign against Baghdad, handed the draft to officials in Beijing, and China — which has already expressed its misgivings — was reflecting on it, a British embassy official said.
Amid the diplomatic war of words, chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix began talks with Iraqi officials in Vienna today, saying he expected unlimited access to sites on any return by his team to Iraq after a nearly four-year gap.
Speaking to reporters before the talks to work out details of the UN’s return to search for any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in Iraq, Blix was asked if there would be any limitations on the sites open to inspectors.
“No, not that I’m aware of,” he said.
After a two-and-a-half hour session, aimed at working out details of the UN’s return, the UN and Iraqi delegations broke for lunch and will resume their meeting.
“The atmosphere is businesslike... We are moving along nicely,” said Mark Gwozdecky, a spokesman for the UN’s Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is hosting the talks.
UN inspection teams left Iraq in December 1998 on the eve of a US-British bombing raid intended to punish Baghdad for allegedly not cooperating with the inspectors.
Today’s talks were the first test of Iraq’s cooperation since Baghdad agreed on September 16 to the unconditional return of the inspectors under threat of a US military strike.
“We would like to ensure that if and when inspections come about, we will not have any clashes inside (Iraq). We would rather have these things outside, in advance,” Blix said.
The administration of US President George W. Bush, whose policy of “regime change” in Baghdad means toppling President Saddam Hussein, has proposed that Iraq be given one week to accept demands to disarm and 30 days to declare all its weapons of mass destruction programmes.
The Security Council draft threatens military action if Iraq fails to comply and France reaffirmed its opposition today, warning such an approach could threaten international stability.
“We do not want to give carte blanche to military action... That is why we cannot accept a resolution authorising as of now the recourse to force without (the issue) coming back to the UN Security Council,” foreign minister Dominique de Villepin told Le Monde newspaper.