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Missile deadline for Baghdad

United Nations/Crawford, Texas, Feb. 22 (Reuters): The chief UN weapons inspector has ordered Iraq to destroy its Al-Samoud 2 missiles as the US works to win an uphill battle to secure a UN resolution paving the way for possible war.

In a major test of Iraqi compliance, Hans Blix told Baghdad yesterday to destroy the missiles, whose range exceeds a 150-km limit set out in UN resolutions after the 1991 Gulf War.

Blix said the “destruction process” should start by March 1 and should cover missiles, SA-2 engines, autopilots, guidance and control systems, and all components designed for production and testing.

However, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed El Baradei today said Iraq was still not providing full cooperation, but war was still not inevitable. “We are not getting comprehensive and full cooperation from Iraq, but we hope we will get it in the next few weeks,” he told a news conference in Tehran.

So far, Baghdad has avoided giving a direct “yes” or “no” to the order to destroy the missiles but said all such issues could be resolved.

“Cooperation is going on and contacts are going on between the Iraqi authorities and the inspection teams,” Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri said in his first reaction to Blix’s demand.

“We think all pending issues can be solved between the two parties without any pressure being exerted on them by certain powers,” he told reporters at a Non-Aligned Movement summit in Kuala Lumpur.

UN inspectors said the missiles exceeded the UN-imposed range limit by 33 km. Iraq noted the missiles were tested without the weight of warheads or guidance systems and this caused any extra distance.

Should Iraq refuse to destroy its missiles, Britain and the US could argue war is justified to disarm the country because it was openly defying a UN order.

In Texas, US President George Bush and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar were to plot strategies today to try to win support for a UN resolution to mount more pressure on Iraq and pave the way for a possible war.

Russian deputy foreign minister Yuri Fedotov was quoted as saying that Moscow was “against a resolution that would authorise automatic use of force”.

 

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