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Disarm pressure mounts on Iraq

Cairo, Nov. 10 (Reuters): Baghdad came under mounting pressure today to accept a new UN resolution to disarm, with Arab ministers calling it Iraq’s best hope of avoiding a military strike by the US.

Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri said in Cairo his country was still studying Friday’s unanimous vote by the 15-member UN Security Council demanding unfettered access to sites suspected of developing weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq’s official media said yesterday the resolution gave Washington an excuse to attack Baghdad, but in an apparent about-turn, newspapers said today the vote defeated US plans to wage war, a signal Iraq might accept the UN demands.

Iraqi television said today President Saddam Hussein had ordered parliament to convene to discuss the resolution but gave no date for when lawmakers would meet.

The UN resolution, co-sponsored by the US and Britain, was approved after France and others persuaded Washington to remove an explicit authorisation to use force unilaterally.

Iraq has until Friday to agree to the resolution’s tough terms. Weapons inspectors are to travel to Baghdad on November 18 to set up communications, transport and laboratories.

Arab foreign ministers and officials meeting in Cairo said the resolution offered hope for a peaceful alternative to war against Iraq. Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Maher said after talks today between Sabri and President Hosni Mubarak that the resolution “provides the opportunity for a peaceful settlement”.

Syrian foreign minister Farouq al-Shara, whose country surprised the international community by backing Friday’s UN resolution, said it had “pushed the phantom of war into the distance for several weeks or several months”.

“I am satisfied with that. Our goal is to spare Iraq and the region from a military strike. This was a principle which we were not prepared to abandon in any form,” al-Shara told reporters in Cairo.

Moussa said the meeting of Arab foreign ministers would issue a resolution “concerning the threat to attack Iraq”, Egypt’s state Middle East News Agency reported. It quoted Moussa as saying that Arabs had agreed at a summit earlier this year that any attack on an Arab state would be considered an aggression on all Arab states.

While the new UN resolution gives the Security Council a central role before any possible attack, it does not force the US to seek council authorisation for war.

Iraq’s official press today praised the world community for choosing diplomacy over war by adopting the UN resolution, which they saw as defeating US plans to wage war.

Al-Jumhuriya newspaper said pro-Iraq demonstrations illustrated the world’s rejection of a US attack on Iraq. More than half a million anti-war protesters from across Europe marched through the Italian Renaissance city of Florence yesterday to denounce any possible US attack on Iraq.

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