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China: Iraq Facing 'Last Chance' - 2002-09-25

China says Iraq is facing a "last chance" to avoid military conflict over its alleged programs to build weapons of mass destruction. An editorial in the government-run China Daily newspaper says Iraq must keep a promise to allow United Nations weapons experts into the country. If not, Iraq will hand President Bush what the paper calls "the excuse he craves" to attack Iraq.

Washington is developing plans for a possible attack on Iraq, and Bush administration officials say they want to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power.

The United States accuses Iraq of developing nuclear, chemical, and germ weapons, which Baghdad promised to give up at the end of the Gulf War more than a decade ago. Washington fears Iraq might use these weapons on U.S. cities, troops, or allies, a concern intensified by deadly terror attacks on the United States a year ago.

Baghdad long ago agreed to allow U.N. weapons experts to examine suspected weapons sites, but the inspectors say Iraq blocked their efforts. Iraq denies it has any banned weapons. The United States has been working to persuade other nations to join, or at least not block, Washington's diplomatic and perhaps military campaign against Iraq.

Washington wants the U.N. Security Council to adopt a new resolution demanding that Iraq comply with earlier U.N. resolutions to disarm or face the consequences.

China has been very skeptical of U.S. actions toward Iraq but hinted at a shift in position Tuesday. Zhang Qiyue, speaking for the Foreign Ministry, says China will "study" a U.S. sponsored resolution, if one is put forward.

It may be a change in position from a decade ago when China opposed efforts to impose sanctions on Iraq in the wake of the Gulf War, and abstained from most Security Council votes in the run up to the conflict.