U.N. opposition to war boosted by Iraqi pledge

Russia threatens to veto U.S. measure for force

`Piece of real disarmament'

U.S. says destroying missiles is not enough

March 01, 2003|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Iraq's announcement that it will begin destroying its prohibited missiles seemed to stiffen resistance yesterday to a U.S.-led war, with Russia bluntly threatening to exercise its veto power at the United Nations to block authorization of military force.

The warning from Russia further complicates efforts by the United States and Britain to pass a U.N. resolution stating that Iraq's regime has missed its final chance to disarm.

White House officials said they remained confident of winning enough support for the resolution in time for a vote by the U.N. Security Council, expected in about two weeks. They also insisted that President Bush needs no further U.N. authorization to invade Iraq.

Iraqi sources said Baghdad would start destroying the Al Samoud 2 rockets today, though Iraqi officials complained that the U.N. demand that they dismantle the weaponry is unfair. At the same time, Iraq is meeting with U.N. officials on the technical details of the missile destruction, a process that threatens to delay action.

Hans Blix, one of the chief U.N. weapons inspectors, had ordered Iraq to destroy its estimated 100 to 120 Al Samoud 2 missiles, saying they violated a 93-mile-range limit. Blix, who set a deadline of today, called the Iraqi decision "a very significant piece of real disarmament."

But Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, dismissed Iraq's decision as too little, too late. He said Saddam Hussein's regime had repeatedly defied U.N. demands that it dismantle its entire arsenal, including what the United States says are chemical and biological weapons.

"President Bush has always predicted that Iraq would destroy its Al Samoud 2 missiles as part of their games of deception," Fleischer said. "Total disarmament is total disarmament is total disarmament. It's not a piece of disarmament."

Fleischer said Hussein could avoid war only by fully disarming or by going into exile.

Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, Bush's leading ally on Iraq, also brushed aside Baghdad's announcement. Blair said Iraq had refused to account for the thousands of tons of "biological and chemical poison" that it possessed when U.N. weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998.

But Iraq's pledge to begin destroying the missiles seemed to embolden Russia, France and other nations that are making a late-stage effort to slow the U.S. march to war and to instead push for peaceful disarmament.

The United States is working feverishly to line up the five additional votes on the Security Council it needs to pass the resolution that says Iraq missed its last chance to disarm. Yet even if it succeeds in winning those votes, the resolution can't survive a veto. As a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia can veto any resolution.

Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov became the first Russian official to raise that possibility, warning yesterday that Moscow "has the right to a veto" and "will use it if necessary in the interests of international stability."

France, another veto-wielding Security Council member and its most aggressive opponent of war, embraced the news that Iraq planned to comply with Blix's demand. Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin called the announcement "an important step" that "confirms that inspectors are getting results." He would not say whether France would exercise its veto power.

`Limited' progress

Yesterday, Blix handed council members his latest report on Iraq, one that each side might point to as favoring its argument. He said he saw "very limited" progress by Iraq in complying with all the U.N. demands. But Blix also held out hope for further progress, saying that if Iraq began destroying its missiles, he would note that cooperation when he discusses his report before the United Nations next week.

It remains much in doubt how smoothly, or quickly, the process of destroying the missiles will go. Even as they agreed to dismantle the weapons, Iraqi officials complained that Blix's demands were unfair. They contend that their missiles, when tested, overshot the 93-mile range limit because they were not carrying heavy warheads and guidance systems.

"We have accepted destruction of those missiles, although they do not constitute a serious violation of the U.N. resolutions," said Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz. "But we want to remove any pretext that there may be to wage aggression against Iraq."

The United States fears that Iraq could load chemical and biological weapons onto the Al Samoud missiles and use them against U.S. forces deployed in the Persian Gulf region, which now exceed 200,000.

Pentagon officials said that an estimated 1,500 paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vincenza, Italy, received deployment orders this week. Elements of the 1st Armored Division, a tank division with soldiers based in Germany and Fort Riley, Kan., are also expected to be ordered to the region.

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