- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2002

LONDON Iraq has been building a new 33-foot-long "supergun" capable of firing biological or chemical shells with equipment from German companies, prosecutors said yesterday.
A senior Kremlin official meanwhile said in Moscow that Russia would take a "pragmatic" approach to a U.S.-sponsored campaign against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein the clearest signal yet that Moscow would not stand in the United States' way.
Prosecutors in Mannheim, Germany, said two businessmen from the small town of Pforzheim will go on trial in January. They are accused of being the middlemen in an Iraqi operation to procure machine tools to drill the gun's barrel.
The disclosure is seen as further evidence of Saddam's attempts to build delivery systems for his weapons of mass destruction. CIA Director George J. Tenet warned this week that a military attack on Iraq could prompt Saddam to use chemical or biological weapons.
The huge gun, which has a 209 mm bore, is not nearly as powerful as the largest of the so-called superguns designed for Iraq by Canadian weapons expert Gerald Bull in the late 1980s.
They had 170-foot barrels with a 350 mm bore. Two were destroyed by U.N. weapons inspectors when they entered Iraq after the 1991 Gulf war.
But the al-Fao 209 mm gun, also designed by Mr. Bull, has a range of more than 35 miles, twice that of the largest British artillery piece, the AS90, and would pose a substantial threat to thousands of allied troops who are expected to be sent to Kuwait.
"Guns of this caliber are capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction," the German prosecutors said.
After being approached to provide the equipment, Bernd Schompeter, 59, an engineer, is accused of having contacted the co-defendant, who has not been named.
Together they obtained the equipment and arranged for it to be exported in 1999 to Jordan, from where it was shipped to Iraq.
Mr. Bull was fatally shot outside his Brussels apartment in April 1990. Suspicions arose that his slaying was the work of Israeli agents, and it came just two weeks before British officials halted a shipment of steel tubes, preventing Iraq's largest gun from being completed before the Gulf war.
Based on the size of the tubes and other intelligence information, U.S. officials estimated this gun would have been up to 400 feet long, with a bore larger than 3 feet. It would have been capable of firing a projectile potentially a nuclear, chemical or biological shell up to 600 miles.
Despite Mr. Bull's death and the destruction of his superguns, the designs for the weapons are believed to have survived, making it possible for Saddam to try to build more.
In Moscow, meanwhile, a senior official suggested Russia would go along with a strong U.N. resolution on Iraq provided it got assurances that it would not suffer economically from any war.
"The devil will be in the details of these resolutions, but our position is essentially pragmatic. What is interesting for us is our economic and financial interests," said Sergei Yastrzhembsky, chief spokesman for President Vladimir Putin.
Mr. Yastrzhembsky spoke on the eve of a visit to Moscow by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led effort to destroy Saddam's arsenal of deadly weapons.
France also moved closer yesterday to accepting the inevitability of war in Iraq, even as it continued to criticize the United States for its hawkish stance.
After a parliamentary debate on Iraq on Tuesday night, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said France would not use its Security Council veto, because that would deprive it of its influence.
While France still appeared wedded to its insistence that there must be two U.N. resolutions on Iraq, it was not clear whether Russia would maintain a similar stance.
Under the French proposal, the first resolution would instruct Saddam to admit inspectors to destroy his weapons of mass destruction, and the second would authorize force if he obstructed their work.
Britain and the United States would prefer a single tough resolution.
In a British Broadcasting Corp. interview, Mr. Blair played down suggestions that Mr. Putin would be demanding huge financial guarantees in return for offering his support in a war against Iraq.
"Obviously, there are interests that Russia has in this issue, but I don't think it's a question of price tags," Mr. Blair said.
"It's a question of making sure that we do this in such a way that the world is made a safer place, that Iraq can develop and that the interests of everybody, including Russia, are taken account of."
Mr. Yastrzhembsky said the Kremlin's policy on Iraq was driven by economic concerns.
At the heart of Russia's fears are the effects that a war in Iraq might have on the price of oil.
Moscow, which relies on oil for half of its external income, fears that if Saddam is deposed, the United States may attempt to flood the market with cheap Iraqi oil to bolster its own economy.
"We are heavily dependent on world oil prices, and it is difficult to anticipate the consequence of an attack on Iraq," Mr. Yastrzhembsky said.
The price of oil, about $29 a barrel, is widely expected to fall if Washington wages a successful war on Iraq. Mr Yastrzhembsky said Russia could cope with a fall in price to $18 a barrel, but not any lower.


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