- The Washington Times - Friday, February 14, 2003

From combined dispatches
ROME Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz insisted yesterday that a missile Russian and U.S. officials contend exceeds U.N.-imposed limits was not a serious or dangerous violation.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the report about the Iraqi missile could constitute a "serious breach" of a U.N. Security Council resolution on disarmament.
Mr. Aziz, arriving in Rome for three days of meetings, including talks with Pope John Paul II, told reporters at the airport that "there is no serious violation" concerning the missiles.
"It should not be exaggerated. We are still within the limits that have been decided by the U.N.," Mr. Aziz said, adding, "We are cooperating and doing our best.
"The Iraqi missiles are very short-range and they don't have a guidance system," he said.
Mr. Aziz said that missiles without the weight of a guidance system can go up to 10 miles beyond its range. "And that is not very dangerous."
International missile experts said they found that the al-Samoud missile's range exceeds the 93 miles allowed under U.N. resolutions, the U.S. and Russian officials said Wednesday.
In Rome, Mr. Aziz will meet with opposition politicians who have condemned conservative Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's support for the U.S. position on Iraq. He may also meet with Mr. Berlusconi's foreign minister.
Most significant was Mr. Aziz's meeting with the pontiff today the day U.N. weapons inspectors are to issue what could be a decisive report to the Security Council on Iraq's cooperation.
The pope has urged both sides to do everything to avoid war, arguing that the United States should not wage a "preventative" war, and that Iraqi authorities must cooperate thoroughly with U.N. weapons inspectors.
The Vatican has strongly opposed a new Iraq conflict, with the pontiff saying such a war would be a "defeat for humanity." The pope was also a vocal opponent of the 1991 Persian Gulf war, and has frequently spoken out in opposition to U.N. economic sanctions imposed on Baghdad after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
The pope sent peace envoy Cardinal Roger Etchegaray this week to Baghdad, where he held talks Wednesday with top Iraqi officials, including Mr. Aziz. Asked if it was still possible to avoid war, Cardinal Etchegaray said, "Until the end, you must always hope, always. We're in the hands of God."
Separately, Mr. Aziz told a French television station that his country does not now have the wherewithal to attack Israel, as it did during the 1991 Gulf war, because it no longer has long-range missiles.
"We do not have the means to attack Israel. We had them in 1991. We no longer have them," Mr. Aziz said in an interview with France 2 television while visiting Rome.
Iraq fired 39 scud missiles at Israel during the last Gulf war.

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