Sat Feb 22, 6:48 AM ET (AP)
UNITED NATIONS – Iraq faced a new test of its willingness to disarm after U.N. inspectors ordered Baghdad to begin destroying dozens of illegal missiles and their components by March 1.
Saddam Hussein’s response could either hurt or help the United States as it struggles to win international support for a new U.N. resolution backing war with Iraq.
The Bush administration, searching for more evidence of Iraq’s refusal to peacefully disarm, had pushed for the destruction of the missiles. U.S. officials said they were reviewing the four-page order that chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix sent to the Iraqis late Friday.
In the letter, Blix ordered Baghdad to destroy, under U.N. supervision, all of its Al Samoud 2 missiles and warheads, the missile engines for them, and a host of other components, some of which Baghdad illegally imported.
He also ordered Iraq to destroy the launchers, testing equipment, software and documentation associated with the Al Samoud program, but not the factories where the missiles were built, as the United States wanted.
“The appropriate arrangements should be made so that the destruction process can commence by March 1, 2003,” Blix wrote to Iraqi General Amer al-Saadi, an adviser to Saddam. March 1 is the date Blix’s next report on Iraqi compliance is due to the Security Council.
The deadline will be key for the Security Council which is bitterly divided over whether war is necessary in Iraq. Any indication of compliance by the Iraqis will likely bolster the position of France and others who claim inspections are working.
The United States and Britain have already said time has run out for Saddam and are preparing to present a new draft resolution next week that would given them U.N. backing for war in Iraq. Secretary of State Colin Powell sought support for the resolution from foreign ministers of four Security Council nations Friday.
Washington’s goal is to achieve the minimum nine votes necessary to pass a council resolution, while avoiding a veto by France, Russia or China.