- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2003

There was mixed support Sunday for a Franco-German plan to end the threat of war with Saddam Hussein, and the heads of the two bodies that are seeking proscribed weapons of mass destruction in Iraq said talks with Iraqi officials were good, but the two sides had not achieved a "breakthrough."

The Franco-German plan to resolve the conflict using the United Nations was gaining some support despite U.S. opposition. The plan, to be presented Friday to the U.N. Security Council, would send thousands of U.N. troops — so-called "blue helmets" — and hundreds, possibly thousands, more inspectors to enforce U.N. resolutions calling for Iraq's disarmament.

U.S. Secretary of Stage Colin Powell called the plan a "diversion, not a solution."

"The issue is not more inspectors," said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "The issue is compliance on the part of Saddam Hussein."

Russia has, however, come out in favor of the proposal.

"If the U.N. Security Council supports the idea, then I am virtually in no doubt that Russia will agree with the proposal," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Sunday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder Sunday and is due to meet French leader Jacques Chirac Monday.

"We are convinced that efforts for a peaceful resolution of the situation regarding Iraq should be persistently continued," Putin told a news conference after talks with Schroeder in Berlin.

Washington maintains that Iraqi leader Saddam cannot be trusted and must be disarmed with force if necessary. That position has mixed support on the U.N. Security Council. Among the Permanent Five members of the council, only Britain unequivocally supports the U.S. position. Russia, China and France are against the use of force. Germany, a non-permanent member of the council that currently heads the body, also opposes the use of military force.

Washington says if the United Nations does not act against Iraq it will do so unilaterally.

"It's a moment of truth for the United Nations," Bush told congressional Republicans at a policy conference in West Virginia Sunday. "The United Nations gets to decide shortly whether or not it is going to be relevant in terms of keeping the peace, whether or not its words mean anything."

He added: "One thing is certain, for the sake of peace and for the sake of security of the United States and our friends and allies, we will disarm Saddam Hussein if he will not disarm himself."

On Saturday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged a multilateral solution to the issue.

War is an issue "not for any one state, but for the international community as a whole," he said in a speech in Williamsburg, Va.

As Bush made his comments in West Virginia, halfway around the world, in Baghdad, chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said his weekend talks with Iraqi officials had been "useful," adding he hoped Iraq now takes "disarmament issues more seriously."

Blix, chairman of the U.N. Monitoring Verification and Inspection Commission, and Mohamed ElBaradei, executive director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, resumed talks Sunday with top Iraqi officials, including Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, on specific ways Iraq can increase its cooperation with the world body.

"Iraq has been helpful on (the) process," he said, "(but) cooperation of substance … that is resolution of disarmament issues is … less good."

He said there had been a "beginning" in talks with the Iraqis, but "breakthrough is a strong word for what we are seeing."

ElBaradei called the talks "the beginning of a change of heart for Iraq."

The diplomatic effort to prevent war continued with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi arriving in Cairo Sunday for talks with his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, and Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri arrived in Tehran, Iran, talks with top Iranian officials, including his counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi.

Last week, Kharrazi was in London for talks with British and European Union officials on Iraq. Although Tehran is a traditional rival of Baghdad, it opposes military intervention to disarm Saddam.

Since resuming searches on Nov. 27 after a four-year hiatus, more than 100 inspectors from UNMOVIC and the IAEA have visited over 500 sites across Iraq that are suspected of involvement in Iraq's programs to develop WMD.

U.N. inspectors are in Iraq following the passage last November of U.N. Security Council Res. 1441, which calls for Iraq's disarmament beginning with the return of the inspectors for the first time in four years and threatening "serious consequences" if Baghdad failed to cooperate with them.

Last week, the United States made what many believed to be the strongest case yet that Saddam poses a threat to the international community. In a show-and-tell presentation to the U.N. Security Council, Powell detailed what he said was evidence Iraq has attempted to hide from U.N. inspectors its existing stocks of chemical and biological weapons and continued attempts to produce more. Powell also gave new details of the alleged link between the Iraqi regime and al Qaida network and reiterated U.S. claims that Iraq had sought materials to build uranium enrichment equipment to help make nuclear weapons.

Iraq denies both possessing WMD and links with terror groups.

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