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UN Insists Iraq Destroy Missiles Despite New Signs of Cooperation - 2003-02-26

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix says Iraq has shown new signs of cooperation "on substance," as he put it, by providing documents about the disposal of some weapons banned in 1991.

The chief inspector, who heads the search for Iraqi chemical and biological weapons, is not backing down on demands that Iraq begin destroying Al-Samoud 2 missiles by Saturday because they exceed the maximum 150-kilometer range.

Mr. Blix said the inspectors will not debate the issue with Iraq.

In an interview with a U.S. television network (CBS) Monday, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein indicated he is unwilling to destroy the missiles, but gave no official response to Mr. Blix's demand.

The chief inspector told reporters there has been some progress in Iraqi cooperation.

In the past three days, inspectors received a series of letters from Iraq on issues that Mr. Blix says require further investigation. He says the letters deal with the disposal of prohibited items in 1991, including a banned R-400 bomb, which can be used for chemical or biological warfare.

"There are some elements which are positive and need to be further explored," he said. "There is one letter in which they tell us that they have found an R-400 bomb containing liquid in a site which is known to us, in which they did dispose of biological weapons before. There is another letter that tells us that they have found some handwritten documents concerning the act of disposal of prohibited items in 1991."

The chief inspector made his comments after a meeting with the U.N. monitoring, verification and inspection commission, which is carrying out the search for banned weapons. The inspectors' report is due at the Security Council Saturday.

The Council's Resolution 1441, which returned weapons inspections to Iraq last November, threatened Iraq with "serious consequences" for failing to destroy its weapons of mass destruction.

The divided Security Council is currently considering two-competing proposals on the next step to take to disarm Iraq. The United States, Britain and Spanish have submitted a draft resolution to declare Iraq in violation of its disarmament obligations.

But the majority of the Council continues to oppose military force to disarm Iraq and support a French, Russian and German plan to continue the peaceful route by intensifying inspections for at least four months.