Iraq accepts U-2 overflights

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq reversed its opposition to U-2 surveillance flights over its territory on Monday, meeting a key demand by U.N. inspectors searching for banned weapons.

The Bush administration, however, brushed aside the Iraqi concession as too little, too late. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "The bottom line is the president is interested in disarmament. This does nothing to change that."

Iraq's acceptance of the U-2 flights, as well as its submission of new documents to the United Nations over the weekend, came as international opposition to U.S. military action intensified. France, Germany and Russia called for more inspectors to disarm Iraq without resorting to war.

"Nothing today justifies a war," French President Jacques Chirac said at a news conference in Paris with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "This region really does not need another war."

With the threat of war looming large, Baghdad appeared eager to display new cooperation with the inspectors in hopes of encouraging opposition to a military strike.

'Free to use' planes

"The inspectors are now free to use the American U-2s as well as French and Russian planes," Mohamed al-Douri, Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, told The Associated Press in New York.

On Sunday, chief U.N. weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei said they sensed a positive Iraqi attitude during weekend talks in Baghdad though they acknowledged they had achieved no "breakthrough."

Blix and ElBaradei had said they expected agreement on the surveillance flight issue by the end of the week. It was unclear whether U-2s have been flying over Iraq as part of secret U.S. intelligence-gathering.

Now that Iraq has given its consent, the high-flying planes can operate over the country with Baghdad's permission and provide its findings to U.N. inspectors.

Iraq had objected to such flights as long as U.S. and British jets continued patrols in the "no-fly" zones.

Bombed missile site

On Monday, U.S. and British bombed a surface-to-air missile site Monday in the southern no-fly zone, the U.S. military said. The Iraqi News Agency reported two civilians were killed and nine others were wounded.

Iraqi forces regularly shoot at allied aircraft patrolling the northern and southern no-fly zones that Washington and London say are designed to protect Shiite Muslims and Kurds.

Britain's U.N. ambassador, Jeremy Greenstock, said Iraq's latest moves indicated "some progress on procedure" but "that doesn't add up to the real change in Iraq's attitude that we're looking for."

Blix and ElBaradei report on Friday to the U.N. Security Council about their weekend talks in Baghdad. The report will help the U.N. Security Council decide whether to support a new resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.

Many on the council are waiting to hear the reports before deciding whether to allow the inspectors more time or move toward a military solution.

Britain, America's staunchest ally, is preparing a new resolution that would authorize force against Iraq, diplomats have said, and Bush has said "the game is up" for Iraq.

However, the use of military force faces strong opposition among key U.S. allies such as France and Germany, where opinion polls show overwhelming majorities of the populations support a peaceful solution. Those divisions widened Monday when France, Germany and Belgium blocked any planning by the NATO alliance for protecting Turkey in the event of war.

The three opponents argued that supporting NATO's efforts would force the Iraq crisis into a "logic of war."

Turkey, the only Muslim member of NATO, fears retaliation from neighboring Iraq because it has authorized the United States to renovate bases on its soil that could be used in an attack on Iraq.

American NATO ambassador Nicholas Burns accused the French, Germans and Belgians of plunging the alliance into crisis. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the United States and willing allies would plan to help Turkey "outside of NATO if necessary."

France, Russia and Germany issued a joint declaration Monday calling for strengthened U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq. Chirac, reading the declaration in the presence of the Russian president, said waging war to neutralize Saddam's weapon's capability should be considered only as a last resort.

As tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel train in the Gulf region for possible war, Bush said Monday that Saddam is positioning his military troops in civilian areas in a plan to "blame coalition forces" for casualties in the event of war.

"Saddam Hussein regards the Iraqi people as human shields, entirely expendable, when their suffering serves his purposes," Bush told an audience of religious broadcasters in Nashville, Tenn. "America views the Iraqi people as human beings who have suffered long enough."

The remarks were the latest step by Bush to prepare America and its allies for potential war with Iraq. Though Bush says he has not decided whether military action is necessary, senior advisers assert there is little hope of finding another way to disarm Iraq -- regardless of international opposition.

In New York, international missile experts began two days of meetings Monday to determine whether two Iraqi missile programs violate U.N. resolutions.

The experts will examine Iraq's production of Al Samoud 2 and Al Fatah missiles, which in some tests exceeded the maximum 93-mile range allowed under Security Council resolutions.

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