NEW YORK Iraq agreed “unconditionally” yesterday to allow U-2 surveillance flights over its territory, meeting a key demand of U.N. inspectors as France, Russia and Germany urged the Security Council to strengthen inspections.
Meanwhile, France and Germany joined by Belgium further angered the United States by voting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels to prevent the alliance from preparing to defend Turkey, the only Muslim member, against Iraqi retaliation during a U.S.-led war.
President Bush quickly described the action as a threat to NATO, saying, “I think it affects the alliance in a negative way when you’re not able to make a statement of mutual defense.”
“‘Upset’ is not the proper word” for his feelings, Mr. Bush told reporters after a White House meeting with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch ally. “I’m disappointed that France is willing to block NATO from helping a country like Turkey to prepare.”
The United States issued a proposal to NATO nearly a month ago to help defend Turkey in case of a military conflict. Yesterday, Ankara formally asked the alliance to invoke Article 4 of the 1949 Washington Treaty and protect one of its members.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the United States would act without NATO to provide Ankara with Patriot anti-missile interceptors and AWACS early-warning aircraft if the three countries prevented NATO from honoring Turkey’s request.
France, Germany and Belgium said that they did not oppose defending Turkey but feared that preparations at this time would give the world the wrong impression that war was imminent.
“It’s unfortunate that they are in stark disagreement with the rest of their NATO allies,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “What it means is that three European countries are isolated from the rest of the NATO alliance.”
Iraq, which hosted a weekend visit by the two chief U.N. weapons inspectors, announced yesterday after weeks of delay that it would allow American-made U-2 aircraft to fly over Iraqi airspace in support of the weapons inspections.
In what appeared to be a bid to avoid a negative assessment when inspectors report to the Security Council on Friday, Baghdad yesterday also pledged to approve long-delayed legislation outlawing the use of weapons of mass destruction.
The Bush administration quickly dismissed the concessions, transmitted in a letter to the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (Unmovic) and the International Atomic Energy Agency, as falling well short of the “full, immediate and active cooperation” demanded by Security Council resolutions.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher noted that Iraq still had not provided several items of information requested previously or to address concerns raised by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Wednesday in his presentation to the Security Council.
“The Iraqis didn’t come forth with the 3,500 scientists on the [pre-1998] U.N. list. They didn’t come forth with the biological weapons laboratories. They didn’t come forth with many other things that we have specified, that we have talked about, that the secretary pointed out in his presentation last week and that these ministers said Iraq needs to answer for,” Mr. Boucher said. “I haven’t seen anything that’s worth getting excited about.”
Mr. Bush repeatedly has told Iraq and the Security Council that Washington will accept nothing less than full compliance with resolutions calling on Baghdad to disarm. Incremental measures, he has said, are not sufficient.
In an effort to postpone or pre-empt a war with Iraq, Security Council members Russia, Germany and France yesterday recommitted themselves to inspections, saying, “There is still an alternative to war.”
The three may present a draft resolution later this week proposing to increase the number of inspectors and support them with U.N. peacekeepers if necessary.
“Russia, Germany and France are determined to allow every opportunity for the peaceful disarmament of Iraq,” the three said in a joint statement issued in Paris during a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who expressed his support for the French-German plan. They also said Iraq must “face up to its responsibilities in full” and that “a large number” of council members agreed with that position.
U.S. officials said yesterday that they had not seen a proposal to increase inspections but would reject it in principle.
Hans Blix, the executive director of Unmovic, said during a visit to Athens that the plan wouldn’t necessarily speed the inspections.
“The principal problem is not the number of inspectors but rather the active cooperation of the Iraqi side, as we have said many times,” he told Reuters news agency.
Mr. Blix declined to comment on whether Iraq had done enough to avoid a war but said its authorities had “focused on real, open issues” during his visit to Baghdad “and that is welcome.”
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has summoned the 15 council ambassadors to his office on Thursday to discuss contingency planning for emergency humanitarian relief in the event of a war in Iraq. The organization has estimated that a conflict could send as many as a half-million refugees flooding across the borders with Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran.
“While the secretary-general still feels that war is not inevitable, he thinks that he should share the state of U.N. contingency plans with the council at this stage,” said a U.N. statement that also described the meeting as “a normal part of the U.N.’s work.”
Rowan Scarborough in Washington contributed to this report.