- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 23, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 23 (UPI) — Iraq said Sunday it was "serious about studying" a declaration by the chief U.N. weapons inspector that its Al-Samoud 2 missiles must be destroyed.

"The letter is now under consideration," said Maj. Gen. Husam Muhammad Amin, head of the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate.

"We are serious about studying it."

Last Friday, Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, gave Iraq until March 1 to start disarming the missiles because they exceeded the 150-kilometer limit allowed by the United Nations after Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War. Iraq says the missiles do not exceed the range.

Iraq has about 100 Al-Samoud 2 missiles, half of which were under construction and the other half had been distributed to military units, according to the director of the manufacturing plant, Mazhar Ahmad.

Hiro Ueki, the U.N spokesman in Baghdad, said a ballistics team from the U.N Monitoring, Verification and Inspections Committee visited sites that made the missile. The Iraqi foreign ministry said the team stuck labels on welding machines that were used to produce parts for the missile.

Amin told reporters Sunday he hoped the issue "will be settled without the intervention of the Americans and British."

The United States and Britain say Iraq has a record of lying to the international community and is hiding proscribed weapons of mass destruction. They say Baghdad has already been given enough time and has not complied with U.N. resolutions. Baghdad, they contend, poses an immediate threat to global security and must be disarmed by force if necessary.

Washington is seeking a second resolution at the United Nations that would authorize the military power if Iraq disobeys the world body.

According to Blix's letter, chambers used for casting rocket engines that had been deemed proscribed and were destroyed under the previous U.N. inspection regime's supervision had been "reconstituted (and) … could still be used to produce motors for missiles capable of ranges significantly greater than 150 kilometers.

"These chambers remain proscribed and are to be destroyed."

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.

Iraq says it is cooperating with the United Nations. Amin said Sunday Iraqi scientists were being privately interviewed by U.N. experts.

"Iraq continues to encourage its scientists to attend private interviews," he said. "These interviews are taking place almost regularly with the IAEA."

The International Atomic Energy Authority is one of two bodies that is looking for Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction.

Amin also said U-2 planes were still carrying out surveillance and that Baghdad had agreed to the use of German reconnaissance planes for low altitudes.

Also Sunday, experts from the IAEA and UNMOVIC searched for suspected WMD in nine sites around Iraq.

A ballistics team visited al-Rufah installation, as well as al-Milad and al-Qadisiyah factories near Baghdad. The plants fall under Iraq's military industry and specialize in manufacturing surface-to-surface missiles and their parts.

A chemicals team visited a privately owned perfume factory in central Baghdad, while a biological group searched al-Fateh and Tabouk plants. Nuclear experts surveyed the military's al-Muthanna Co.

Iraq's Information Ministry said a joint team from UNMOVIC and the IAEA paid an unannounced visit to the Ninawa Soda Beverages Co. in Mosul, 450 kilometers north of Baghdad.

(With reporting by Ghassan Al-Kadi in Baghdad, Iraq)

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