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SHOWDOWN WITH IRAQ

Iraq OKs Spy Flights; Bush Says That's Not Enough

U.S., Britain reportedly are drafting a resolution to endorse the use of force. Even the U.N.'s Annan is preparing for a possible war.

February 11, 2003|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — Baghdad agreed Monday to allow weapons inspectors to use surveillance planes in a last-minute show of cooperation before a crucial inspection report due Friday, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called a private meeting of the Security Council for Thursday to talk about the humanitarian effects in the event of war.

Friday's assessment by chief inspector Hans Blix and his nuclear agency counterpart, Mohamed ElBaradei, could determine whether force is used against Iraq or inspectors continue looking for any banned chemical, biological or nuclear weapons programs.

Two veto-holding members of the Security Council, France and Russia, along with Germany crafted a communique Monday saying that "there is still an alternative to war" and that peaceful means to disarm Iraq have not yet been exhausted.

But the U.S. and Britain are already drafting a second resolution to authorize military action in case the inspectors report that Iraq is not fully cooperating, and they could present a draft as soon as next week, diplomats say. That makes the timing of Annan's briefing on what would happen "the morning after," as he put it, all the more significant.

"I think he has the feeling the situation has become dangerous," said Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Douri. "As the United Nations, they have to prepare themselves."

U.N. planners have been examining the possibilities that as many as 500,000 people in Iraq could be injured or traumatized by a war and that more than 2 million refugees could need care. Epidemics of cholera and dysentery are seen as likely. Roads, bridges, ports and railroads could also be ruined, making it difficult to deliver relief supplies.

Douri hand-delivered a letter from his government to Blix's office Monday, accepting the use of U.S.-made U-2 spy planes, French Mirages and Russian Antonovs for aerial monitoring. The letter reversed an earlier stand by the Iraqi government that it could not guarantee the safety of U.N. pilots if they entered "no-fly" zones patrolled by British and American aircraft. "The letter has no instructions, no conditions at all," Douri said.

The ambassador said that in a meeting with inspectors in Baghdad over the weekend, Iraqi authorities handed over 24 more documents dealing with the destruction of deadly VX nerve agents and anthrax and with 18 empty chemical warheads that inspectors recently discovered.

Douri said Baghdad has addressed the inspectors' three key issues by consenting to the spy planes, pledging to pass legislation next week banning weapons of mass destruction and encouraging more private interviews with scientists. Iraqi officials also offered to allow the inspectors to drill into the ground where chemical and biological weapons reportedly were destroyed and to analyze the findings.

"I think they made a lot of effort to try to show that we are cooperating," Douri said, fingering a string of black prayer beads as he watched the snow fall on New York's East River. But he appeared to have a feeling that the U.S. response has already been decided. "They [the Bush administration] already said it's not enough, the game is over, the window is closing. So it is clear what they think. We hope there is still someone with a little bit of wisdom, because war would be terrible for everybody."

In Baghdad, President Saddam Hussein added a postscript to the letter, saying British and American aircraft in the no-fly zones should not carry out raids on Iraq while the United Nations is conducting surveillance flights.

"If the world, besides America, finds that the U-2 plane is important to carry out more aerial surveillance, it should tell American and Britain not to open fire at us," he said through state television. "Otherwise, this demand would be a call for the surrender of Iraq to the American military force."

U.S. officials said that Iraq's new concessions were required under U.N. resolutions and that the moves did not represent the progress Baghdad needs to show to avoid forcible disarmament.

"It's just cosmetic surgery on a dying patient," said Richard A. Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations. He added that the resolutions' requirements were not up for negotiation.

In Washington, President Bush said that "the reason why we even need to fly U-2 flights is because they're not disarming.... [Hussein is] trying to play a diplomatic game. He's been successful at it for 12 years."

Blix, as he prepared his report for Friday, said he was slightly encouraged that Iraqi officials had grasped the gravity of the country's situation after the Baghdad meetings and had begun to make better efforts. "But there are still hundreds of unresolved questions," he told CNN on the flight back to New York on Monday.

ElBaradei, speaking in Vienna after his return from Baghdad, said the meetings were fruitful.

"I think we got, at least in the area I'm responsible for -- nuclear -- commitment for all that we asked for," he said. "But we have to test that, of course."

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