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UN Weapons Inspectors Focus on Iraqi Missile System - 2003-02-20

Weapons inspectors in Iraq are concentrating their efforts on a missile system that may be in violation of U.N. restrictions.

Weapons inspectors Thursday stepped up their efforts to examine Iraq's al-Samoud II missiles. After the inspectors complete their inventory of the missile system's launchers, components and assembly sites, the U.N.'s chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, is expected to request the missiles be destroyed.

Mr. Blix reported to the Security Council at the end of January that the missiles could fly 33 kilometers beyond the 150 kilometer limit imposed by the United Nations.

But Iraq denies the al-Samoud II exceeds the limits. It says once the missiles are equipped with guidance and control systems and other devices, they no longer exceed the range limit because of the extra weight they are carrying.

The United States is likely to view Iraq's willingness to destroy the missiles as a test of its intention to disarm weapons that have been banned by the Security Council.

Meanwhile, the Arab League released a statement saying the 22-member organization will hold a summit to discuss Iraq March 1 in Cairo.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been pressing for an emergency summit to discuss the Iraqi crisis. Several Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, had resisted holding a meeting, saying it was not necessary because the Arab League's foreign ministers met in emergency session last week in Cairo.

Political analysts in the region say the Arab League has become an impotent organization over the years, with little ability to affect international policies. It is expected the March 1 summit will produce a statement opposing the use of military force against Iraq and urging a continuation of inspections.