- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

Iraq agreed in principle yesterday to destroy its banned al Samoud 2 missiles, reversing an earlier decision only hours after chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix filed a report saying that Baghdad had shown "very limited" progress toward disarmament.
The Bush administration said Iraq's decision does nothing to prevent war. The move also is not expected to change any minds on a divided U.N. Security Council, where members broke up after a rancorous meeting in New York.
"With respect to the missiles, it doesn't change our view of the situation in the slightest," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told reporters after a meeting at the State Department with officials from the European Union. "Those missiles were prohibited in the first place. They should have been destroyed long ago."
Mr. Blix's office announced last night that it had received Baghdad's decision in a letter from Gen. Amer al-Saadi, an adviser to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, but it said the inspectors must clarify with Iraqi officials the meaning of the words "in principle."
Saddam had said this week in an interview with CBS News that he would not destroy the missiles, which exceed the permitted 93-mile range by about 30 miles.
Last week, Mr. Blix ordered Iraq to begin destroying dozens of the missiles by tomorrow, which also was the deadline for the written report to the Security Council filed yesterday.
The report's draft, submitted to Secretary-General Kofi Annan's office and leaked to the British Broadcasting Corp., noted progress in the inspection process but said "the results in terms of [Iraqs] disarmament have been very limited so far."
"Iraq could have made greater efforts to find any remaining proscribed items or provide credible evidence showing the absence of such items," the BBC World Service quoted the document as saying.
"It is hard to understand why a number of the measures which are now being taken could not have been initiated earlier. If they had been taken earlier, they might have borne fruit by now," it said.
Mr. Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the U.N.-based International Atomic Energy Agency, are scheduled to brief the Security Council orally on March 7, setting the stage for a vote on a new U.S.-backed resolution declaring Iraq in "material breach" of its obligations.
The council discussed that resolution also supported by Britain and Spain for the first time yesterday, emerging after four hours behind closed doors complaining of a hostile atmosphere and emotional exchanges.
Envoys from the non-permanent council member countries, most of whom are undecided, expressed anger at the five veto-holding permanent members the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China for not reaching a compromise.
"This divided council is in fact throwing the decision on the back of the elected members, while the permanent members stick to their positions without making efforts to approximate their views," Gabriel Valdez, Chile's ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters.
His deputy, Christian Maquierira, said, "Nobody makes a step toward bridging the gap. We are all coming up with innovative ways to defend our own positions. There is no atmosphere of 'where do we go from here?'"
Mr. Valdez, supported by Mexico's U.N. ambassador, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, suggested a compromise on the lines of a Canadian proposal Wednesday to set March 28 as a final disarmament deadline for Iraq. Both Washington and London rejected the idea.
Even Bulgaria's U.N. ambassador, Stefan Tafrov, whose country supports the U.S. position, said the Chilean and Canadian ideas were not "far from our thinking."
"It is all about whether this will be the middle ground or whether the middle ground is possible at all," he said.
France, Russia and Germany introduced their own memorandum calling for inspections to continue for at least four more months. That document was supported by China.
Mr. Powell said he had not lost hope that the new resolution will pass.
"Depending on what Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei report and depending on what the Iraqis do over the next week or two, we will see where we are with respect to support for such a resolution," Mr. Powell said.
"I'm confident that if we don't see the kind of improvement that we must see in the form of compliance … that we'll be able to get the support needed to pass it," he said.
As part of Washington's final diplomatic push to win support for the new resolution, Mr. Bush spoke by telephone yesterday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The State Department today will designate three Chechen groups as "foreign terrorist organizations," spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday. Moscow has been in conflict with the breakaway republic on and off since 1993.
Insisting that the move is not a payoff to earn Russian backing for the new Iraq resolution, Mr. Boucher said, "This is something that's been under way for a number of months."
The three groups, to be identified today, "were involved in the attack on the Moscow theater last October," when hundreds were taken hostage and more than 100 died, he said.

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