| A girl at a protest rally in Baghdad. (Reuters)
Vienna, Sept. 29 (Reuters): The US and Britain backed up threats of war on Iraq with diplomatic arm-twisting on reluctant allies today, as UN arms inspectors prepared for talks with Baghdad on resuming their work in the Arab state.
Pursuing a diplomatic drive, the US suffered an apparent setback in its efforts to persuade a sceptical Russia to support Washington’s proposed Security Council resolution demanding Iraq accept tough new rules for weapons inspections or face military action.
Interfax news agency quoted informed sources as saying today Russia was unhappy with the draft. The report followed talks yesterday in Moscow between US undersecretary of state Marc Grossman with foreign minister Igor Ivanov.
A British envoy arrived in China today on a parallel mission to win backing from key veto-holding Security Council members for the resolution, which gives Iraq one week to accept demands to disarm and 30 days to declare any weapons of mass destruction programmes.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush’s closest ally in his stand-off with Baghdad, would not rule out today a military strike on Iraq even if the UN refused to back it.
Waging Baghdad’s own diplomatic campaign after rejecting the US draft and promising a “fierce war” if attacked, Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri went to his country’s old foe, Iran, and proclaimed after meeting President Mohammad Khatami that Washington was a threat to the whole Islamic world.
Iraq denounced what it said was the second air strike in a week by US jets today on Basra’s civilian airport. The US Central Command said its planes had targeted a military mobile radar at Basra.
In Vienna, UN weapons inspectors met today to prepare for talks with Iraqi officials tomorrow on details of their return to Baghdad after a nearly four-year gap.
UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix is to take part in tomorrow’s talks — expected to finish on Wednesday — which follow three unsuccessful attempts this year to set up practical arrangements for a resumption of inspections.
The Vienna talks are the first test of Iraq’s cooperation since Iraq’s Sabri sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on September 16 saying the inspectors could return without preconditions.
Blix intends to make the same requests he did at his last meeting with Iraqi officials in Vienna in July: arrangements for offices, transport, communications, accommodation, escorts, landing sites for aircraft, as well as offices for the first time in Basra in the south and Mosul in the north.
He has also been promised by Iraq an up-to-date list of equipment and materials that have both civilian and military uses and how they are deployed.
Such declarations have not been submitted since the inspectors were pulled out in December 1998 on the eve of a US-British bombing raid meant to punish Baghdad for not cooperating with the arms experts.
Blix, the executive chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), had planned to send advance inspection teams to Iraq on October 14.
While Blix’s UNMOVIC will focus on chemical, biological and ballistic weapons, IAEA experts, led by chief inspector Jacques Baute, will hunt for evidence of any revival of Baghdad's nuclear weapons programme.
In Turkey, Iraqi Arab and ethnic minority groups opposed to Saddam called today at the end of a three-day conference for an end to his rule.