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Iraq Destroys 4 al-Samoud 2 Missiles - 2003-03-01

Baghdad says it is meeting a U.N. deadline to begin destroying its al-Samoud 2 missiles, as demanded by the chief U.N. weapons inspector. Meanwhile, U.N. inspectors have been able to interview two Iraqi scientists in private, another key U.N. demand.

Iraq says destruction of the missiles has begun at a site just north of Baghdad.

Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix ordered the missiles destroyed, saying tests indicated the missiles could exceed a U.N.-mandated limit of 150 kilometers. Iraqi officials say the missiles do not exceed the limit. They say the tests did not take into account that the missiles would be heavier once loaded with guidance and control systems and warheads. The added weight, they said, would prevent the missiles from exceeding the range limit.

Nevertheless, Iraqi officials Saturday said they had begun complying with the order by destroying four of the weapons. Iraq is believed to have about 100 al-Samoud 2 missiles.

Senior weapons inspectors and Iraqi experts met for about 90 minutes Saturday to work out a timetable and a method of destroying the missiles.

The chief weapons inspector called Iraq's apparent decision a "very significant piece of real disarmament." In a report to the U.N. Security Council on Friday, Mr. Blix said he considered Iraq's disarmament efforts, up to that point, had been very limited.

White House officials say Iraq's move to destroy the missiles is a deception.

In another development, weapons inspectors interviewed, in private, two Iraqi scientists on Friday, including a biologist and a missile expert. The last such private interview occurred three weeks ago.

March 7, Mr. Blix is scheduled to deliver another progress report to the Security Council on Iraq's compliance with U.N. disarmament demands. The latest developments come as the Security Council debates what to do next about Iraq. Some members, led by France, say weapons inspectors should be given more time. The United States and Britain are asking the council to approve a new resolution declaring that Iraq has lost its last chance to disarm voluntarily and must now face the consequences.