- The Washington Times - Monday, December 16, 2002

From combined dispatches
LONDON Prime Minister Tony Blair will ask Syria's President Bashar Assad today to pass a message to Saddam Hussein that Iraq can still avoid a war if it gives up its weapons of mass destruction, the London Daily Telegraph reported.
In Iraq, U.N. inspectors hunted for weapons of mass destruction at missile plants and nuclear complexes yesterday.
The London Telegraph said in today's editions that Mr. Blair would appeal to the Syrian president during what promises to be a tense meeting at Mr. Blair's 10 Downing Steet office.
Mr. Assad is the first Syrian president to visit Britain and one of the few Arab leaders to maintain contact with Saddam Hussein.
The newspaper quoted a senior British source as saying, "We want to tell the Syrians, 'If Saddam really plays ball if he will deliver up and destroy his weapons of mass destruction we're not going to invade. Please tell your chum that we're absolutely serious about this.'"
British officials told the Telegraph that Iraq's formal declaration on its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons was a "bad rehash" of earlier Iraqi statements and had increased the chances of war early next year.
But they said there was still a slim chance that Iraq would be persuaded to cooperate fully with the U.N. weapons inspectors.
In Baghdad, Iraqi Oil Minister Amir Muhammad Rasheed said Iraq would cooperate fully with U.N. arms experts to disprove accusations that it still has weapons of mass destruction.
"The situation is unfolding," Mr. Rasheed said in an interview with Reuters news agency. "The whole public opinion will see how Iraq is wise, Iraq is truthful. It has absolutely no weapons of mass destruction."
Asked whether Iraq would comply with a U.N. demand for a list of scientists associated with its weapons programs, he said: "They will try many questions. We will deal with them."
Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, meanwhile, branded President Bush a warmonger and a hypocrite.
He said on TV's "Fox News Sunday" that Mr. Bush was "driving America to a hostile imperialist policy" that was dangerous for both the United States and the world.
Yesterday U.N. inspectors searched a missile plant south of Baghdad that the United States said had aroused suspicion. It was one of 10 sites the newly bolstered inspection team visited yesterday, according to Iraqi government officials and a statement by U.N. inspectors' headquarters in Baghdad.
With the arrival of 15 inspectors yesterday and the routine departure of others in recent days, the number of U.N. sleuths stands at 105, said Hiro Ueki, a spokesman for the U.N. program in Baghdad.
On Saturday, the teams visited a dozen sites, which Mr. Ueki said was the largest single-day site visitation since the inspectors returned to Iraq on Nov. 27 after a four-year hiatus.
In Berlin, meanwhile, the German defense ministry said the United Nations had asked it to supply the inspection operation with unmanned spy aircraft to help in the search for banned Iraqi weapons or the facilities to make them.
A decision on whether to supply the LUNA drones and the technicians needed to maintain them is likely to be made this week, said a ministry spokesman on the customary condition of anonymity. German-U.S. relations were strained over Berlin's opposition to attacking Saddam, but Berlin has pledged full support for the inspection program.
Hollywood actor Sean Penn spoke out in Baghdad yesterday in support of Iraqi civilians caught up in an international crisis. He issued his comments at the end of a three-day visit to Iraq, which was organized by the Institute for Public Accuracy, a research organization based in San Francisco.
"Simply put, if there is a war or continued sanctions against Iraq, the blood of Americans and Iraqis alike will be on [American] hands," Mr. Penn said at a news conference in the Iraqi capital.
The sites visited by inspectors yesterday included al-Mutasim, a government missile plant occupying the grounds of a former nuclear facility 46 miles south of Baghdad, the inspectors said. As usual, they offered no details about what they sought or found.
Al-Mutasim was cited in a CIA intelligence report released in October that detailed what U.S. officials said was evidence Iraq was producing chemical and biological weapons, and the means to deliver them. The report also characterized the facility as a site where Iraq might be trying to build nuclear weapons.

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