United Nations/Baghdad, Feb. 27 (Reuters): Iraq will respond to a UN order to destroy its Al-Samoud missiles within two days, an Iraqi official said today ahead of Security Council talks on a draft resolution laying the groundwork for war against Iraq.
An Iraqi official, who declined to be named, said Baghdad was “seriously and genuinely” studying a UN request that it destroy missiles that inspectors say exceed range restrictions, and would reply in the form of a letter to the Security Council within the next two days.
The response came shortly before the Council opened discussions on a US-British-Spanish draft resolution that said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had “failed” to meet disarmament demands, diplomatic language that could trigger war.
It also came one day after chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix issued his harshest criticism of Baghdad in a month, saying while there was evidence of increased activity by Iraq it was still not clear the nation had made a “fundamental decision” to disarm.
However, US President Ge orge W. Bush said any Iraqi plan to destroy banned missiles was part of a “campaign of deception” and called for Baghdad to disarm completely, according to a report from Washington. “The only question at hand is total and complete disarmament, which he is refusing to do,” Bush said.
The Bush administration once again called on the international community to rally around its resolution. “We’ve been waiting for Saddam Hussein to disarm for 4,222 days. I don’t call that rushing,” undersecretary of state for political affairs Marc Grossman said in Brussels.
US defence officials said troops and equipment from a Iraqi Republican Guard division have begun moving toward Baghdad from their base in northern Iraq. The officials, speaking as US and British forces massed in the Gulf, said the purpose of the shift was not clear. It was also not known if the whole division would move, possibly to defend Saddam Hussein’s home city of Tikrit or go on to Baghdad.
The prospect of war rattled world markets. Crude oil prices hit a 12-year high partly on war fears and the dollar fell to its lowest level in almost six months against the yen.
Despite intense lobbying, the US has yet to secure the support of nine council members needed for its passage or assurance that none of the five permanent Council members would veto the resolution.
A Kremlin statement said Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in a telephone conversation “to step up work within the UN Security Council with the aim of working out a plan of action to take account of the interests of the world community”.
Russia has joined Germany and France in backing a counter-proposal to the US plan that would intensify UN arms inspections and continue them for at least four months.
In a statement issued in Beijing today, veto-wielding Security Council members China and Russia restated their position that war against Iraq “can and should be avoided”.
Critics say a war on Iraq would destabilise the region and prolonged occupation of the country would fuel terrorism.
In a speech to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington yesterday, Bush tried to allay those concerns.
Success in Iraq could begin a new stage for peace in West Asia ending in a democratic Palestinian state, he said.
“America will seize every opportunity in pursuit of peace. And the end of the present regime in Iraq would create such an opportunity,” Bush said. “We will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more.”
Washington had hoped to secure approval from the Turkish parliament for the deployment of 62,000 US troops for an assault into Iraq from the north. But, in a blow to US preparations for war, Turkey’s parliament voted today to delay debate on troop deployment until Saturday.
Arab foreign ministers meeting in Egypt ahead of an Arab summit hoped to forge a united stand to try to avert a war some members said was all but inevitable. “Whatever the threats (of war) are, we should work until the last minute and exert efforts to avoid it,” said Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Maher.