- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2003

BAGHDAD The chief U.N. weapons inspectors emerged from key talks with Iraqi officials yesterday, saying they saw signs of a "change of heart" from Baghdad over disarmament demands and that further U.N. inspections were preferable to a quick U.S.-led military strike.
In two days of meetings with Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, Iraqi officials handed over documents on anthrax, VX nerve gas and missile development. But Mr. Blix said there was still no immediate agreement on a key demand to use American U-2 surveillance planes in inspection efforts.
"We are not at all at the end of the road," Mr. Blix said. "But nevertheless I'm bound to note, to register, nuances, and this I think was a new nuance."
The weekend session, ahead of Mr. Blix and Mr. ElBaradei's report Friday to the U.N. Security Council, could help decide the next steps taken by the council in the months-long standoff that has left the Middle East suspended between war and peace.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, asked later about Mr. Blix's statement, said: "Given the fact that Saddam Hussein is not disarming, time is running out."
Moments earlier, President Bush told congressional Republicans at a policy conference in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., that Iraq has fooled the world for more than a decade about its banned weapons and the United Nations now faces "a moment of truth."
"It is clear that not only is Saddam Hussein deceiving, it is clear he's not disarming. And so you'll see us over the next short period of time working with friends and allies and the United Nations to bring that body along," Mr. Bush said.
But the United States faces renewed European opposition to a war in Iraq. Germany's defense minister said yesterday his country and France would present a proposal to the Security Council next week to send U.N. soldiers to disarm Iraq a plan U.S. officials denounced as ineffective.
And Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country holds veto power on the council, reiterated his opposition to military action against Baghdad.
"We are convinced that efforts for a peaceful resolution of the situation regarding Iraq should be persistently continued," Mr. Putin told journalists after talks with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Berlin.
Mr. Blix and Mr. ElBaradei had gone into their weekend talks in Baghdad to press for greater cooperation on a range of issues: technical matters, such as using the U-2s and getting private access to scientists, and issues of substance, including answers to outstanding questions on biological and chemical weapons.
Mr. Blix said yesterday that whereas in the past weeks Iraqi officials "belittled" the inspectors' demands, "for the first time today, I think they were focusing upon these issues."
"I perceive a beginning," Mr. Blix told reporters earlier. "'Breakthrough' is a strong word for what we are seeing." But he added: "I would much rather see inspections than some other solution," referring to Washington's threat of military action.
Mr. Blix said he received assurances that Iraq would expand efforts to disclose its weapons and weapon programs and "relevant documents nationwide," and that he hoped Iraq is taking the disarmament issue seriously.
During the two days of meetings, the Iraqis submitted a number of documents related to outstanding issues of anthrax, VX nerve gas and Iraqi missile development, Mr. Blix said.
He said those documents would be reviewed by U.N. experts in the coming days to determine their value. Mr. Blix also said he hoped Iraq would soon enact legislation banning weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. Blix also said "we had some discussions with their scientists," but did not elaborate.
Mr. ElBaradei said the talks showed "hopefully a beginning of a change of heart" from the Iraqis.
But he said that with the Security Council impatient, he and Mr. Blix told the Iraqis: "Something spectacular has to happen, a new environment in the next days and weeks."
On the issue of U-2 flights, Mr. Blix said he expects the Iraqis to respond by Friday. The Iraqis have refused to accept U-2 flights unless the United States and Britain suspend air patrols in the no-fly zones while the spy plane is aloft.
In other developments yesterday:
U.N. inspectors found another empty chemical warhead at an ammunition depot north of Baghdad. Inspectors have found 18 such warheads during inspections over recent weeks, although none has been loaded with chemical agents.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri visited Iran in a surprise diplomatic move. Tehran, a leading opponent of Saddam's regime, has rejected military intervention without U.N. approval.
Pope John Paul II ordered a special envoy sent to Iraq to emphasize his plea for peace and to encourage Iraqi authorities to cooperate with the United Nations.
Coalition aircraft patrolling the no-fly zone in southern Iraq attacked a mobile military command-and-control center near Al Kut, about 95 miles southeast of Baghdad, U.S. Central Command said.
Kuwait, a likely staging ground for a U.S. attack on Iraq, welcomed a decision by fellow Persian Gulf states to send troops from their combined militaries to defend it against any Iraqi threat.
The Security Council banned Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and longer-range missiles after Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf war. During the 1990s, U.N. inspectors oversaw destruction of the many chemical and biological weapons, and dismantled Iraq's program to build nuclear bombs.
The U.N. experts resumed inspections Nov. 27 after a four-year hiatus.

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