Weapons inspectors watch as Iraq bulldozes 4 missiles

U.N. official `glad,' but he notes that many issues remain

March 02, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq began destroying its short-range Al Samoud missiles yesterday, crushing four of them with a bulldozer under the supervision of United Nations weapons inspectors, the latest in a series of clearly distasteful steps that Baghdad has taken in hopes of staving off war.

Demetrius Perricos, the deputy U.N. weapons inspector, said just four were crushed yesterday out of a stock of about 100. He said Iraq indicated that it could deliver only that many to the destruction site northwest of Baghdad right away.

He said demolition also started south of Baghdad on one of the two casting chambers used to help make engines and propellants for the missiles.

"All the missiles that are presently deployed, all the missiles in a state where they are ready to be deployed and all the parts and components are also to be destroyed," Perricos said at a news conference.

There was no immediate comment from the Iraqi government about the destruction.

At the news conference here yesterday, Perricos said he was "very glad" that the destruction of Iraqi missiles had started, but he noted that it was just one of a host of outstanding questions about Iraqi cooperation with the weapons inspectors.

"There is a big list of unresolved issues where we still have to have a lot of answers," he said, but suggested inspections could still be effective.

"We have not found the famous smoking gun," he said, but he suggested that the presence of the inspectors was preventing the development of weapons.

Although the timetable for the destruction of the missiles was left up to Iraq, Perricos said he hoped the pace would accelerate all week before one of the two chief weapons inspectors, Hans Blix, makes his next report to the U.N. Security Council.

The United Nations had not set a deadline, Perricos said, but "the earlier they destroy, the better it is for them."

In addition to the destruction of the missiles, the Iraqis started to meet the demand that the inspectors be allowed to conduct private interviews with scientists involved in biological, chemical or missile technology. On Friday night, inspectors conducted two interviews, one with a biological scientist and the other with an engineer.

The United States is pushing the Security Council to approve a new resolution supporting the use of force against Iraq. Those opposed to such action pointed to Iraq's promise to destroy the weapons as proof that inspections needed more time; their complete destruction would obviously bolster their arguments.

Perricos said that given the amount of material to be destroyed - including all the missiles, their warheads, 380 illegally imported engines, any fuel and all the design software - completing the job would not be feasible by the end of the week. But he said the Iraqis should be able to finish within two weeks.

He said the Iraqis were keenly aware of the weight riding on their decision to destroy the missiles. He said the decision to go ahead with new requests for interviews and the weapons destruction was made because the inspectors know that Iraq tends to be more flexible when it is facing the deadline pressure of a new Blix report.

Blix demanded a week ago that Iraq begin the destruction by yesterday, saying that weapons experts had determined that the missiles exceeded the 93-mile limit imposed on Iraq for short-range missiles under the cease-fire that followed the Persian Gulf war in 1991.

Experts also expressed concern that the rockets could serve as a precursor for a far more advanced system that could greatly exceed the limit.

Hussein and a host of senior Iraqi officials objected, saying first of all that the missiles, once fully loaded with their guidance systems, could not fly as far.

The destruction began a few hours after discussions with the Iraqis of technical aspects of the demolition. Perricos said that during a brief initial encounter a day earlier, the Iraqis had argued that they could keep the weapons, but that by yesterday they were all business.

He said the United Nations would have preferred that the weapons be exploded, a faster method, but the Iraqis elected to crush them.

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