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U.N. inspector says Iraq shows new signs of real cooperation

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

UNITED NATIONS -- Iraq is providing new information about its weapons and has reported the discovery of two bombs, including one possibly filled with a biological agent -- moves that the chief U.N. weapons inspector said Tuesday signal real cooperation.

President Bush, however, predicted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein would try to "fool the world one more time" by revealing the existence of weapons he has previously denied having. He urged the United Nations to back U.S. action against Iraq.

With the Security Council deeply divided, Canada stepped forward Tuesday with a plan to reconcile differences between a U.S.-British-Spanish resolution seeking U.N. authorization for war, and a French-Russian-German proposal to strengthen weapons inspections and continue them at least into July.

Canada, which isn't on the council, circulated a document to council members proposing a series of benchmarks Iraq would have to meet by the end of March. The council would then be asked to vote on whether Iraq was complying with its U.N. obligations, diplomats told The Associated Press.

The Canadian ideas were well received by some of the swing voters the United States is trying to court, but it was unclear how the five veto-holding powers would react. U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte seemed to reject the concept Monday when he said the only benchmarks Iraq had to meet were in Resolution 1441, which the council approved in November.

Bush said Tuesday it would be helpful to get U.N. backing for war, "but I don't believe we need a second resolution."

The United States and Britain, which introduced the new resolution on Monday, maintain they already have U.N. authorization to attack Iraq. The November resolution gave Iraq a final opportunity to disarm or face "serious consequences."

The vote, expected in mid-March, could well be influenced by whether Iraq complies with an order last week from chief inspector Hans Blix to begin destroying its Al Samoud 2 missiles by Saturday because they exceed the 93-mile limit in U.N. resolutions.

Blix has said in previous reports that Iraq was cooperating more on the process of inspections than on the substance of its weapons of mass destruction programs.

New information on bombs

But he said Tuesday that Iraq had provided inspectors with half a dozen letters containing new information on weapons, including two R-400 aerial bombs. Blix said one of the bombs was "likely to be filled with biological stuff, it's a liquid that appears to be biological."

He gave no other details, but R-400 aerial bombs can be filled with biological or chemical agents.

He also said Iraq had also reported finding handwritten documents on the disposal of "prohibited items in 1991."

"There are pieces of evidence that are coming forward, but we still have to see this evidence," he told The Associated Press.

"This is cooperation on substance," Blix told AP. "Substance is if you find weapons, you can destroy it. If you find documents, it may constitute evidence."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called the Iraqis' discovery "the very nature of the problem with Iraq -- that all of a sudden (it) will start to discover weapons" it said it never had.

Getting approval for the U.S.-British-Spanish resolution will be a daunting task, and lobbying by both camps was already in high gear.

To pass, the resolution must have nine "yes" votes and avoid a veto by France, Russia or China, which has announced support for the French-Russian-German plan. The sponsors of the plan say it can be implemented without a new resolution.

Only Bulgaria is now considered in the U.S.-British-Spanish camp. The 11 other council members, to varying degrees, back continued inspections.

Undersecretary of State John Bolton, on a trip to Moscow, said Tuesday that he had not won Russian support for the resolution but held out hope that Moscow's position might change. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, an opponent of the war option, will visit Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.

The 10 nonpermanent members of the Security Council -- whose votes are crucial to both sides -- met Tuesday afternoon with France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere at Chile's U.N. Mission. On Wednesday, they are expected to meet with Negroponte, council diplomats said.


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