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UNITED NATIONS -- Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix ordered Iraq on Friday to destroy dozens of its missiles with ranges that violate U.N. limits, and gave Baghdad a March 1 deadline to begin the demolition.
In a four-page letter, Blix told Iraq to hand over to inspectors "for verifiable destruction" all Al Samoud 2 missiles and warheads, SA-2 missile engines configured for use in the missiles, machinery to produce missile motors, and a host of other items.
"The appropriate arrangements should be made so that the destruction process can commence by March 1, 2003," Blix said in the letter. March 1 is also the date Blix's next report on Iraqi compliance is due to the Security Council.
Iraq's response to the order will test its willingness to disarm as negotiations enter a crucial stage. The United States and Britain are trying to focus the world's attention on illegal Iraqi weapons activities while they prepare a new resolution that could pave the way for military action.
Stepping up the pressure on Saddam Hussein, Blix was also preparing a list of more than 35 outstanding issues surrounding Iraq's disarmament that he will present to his advisory board of commissioners when they meet on Monday at U.N. headquarters.
The order to destroy its missiles confronts the Iraqi government with a serious dilemma: whether to give up a valuable weapons system its military would almost certainly use against a U.S.-led coalition, or refuse to comply and face accusations that it is not cooperating with U.N. inspectors.
Blix, handed the letter, plus the findings of an independent panel of experts, to Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri at U.N. headquarters, where they met for more than an hour Friday.
Blix's order said the Al Samoud 2 missiles exceed the 93-mile limit set by a U.N. resolutions at the end of the 1991 Gulf War.
"The necessary destruction is to be carried out by Iraq under ... guidance and supervision" of U.N. inspectors, Blix said.
Blix is also preparing a list of outstanding questions about Iraq's biological, chemical and missile programs.
The list won't be included in his March 1 report, but he will likely be asked about it when he addresses the council, most likely on March 7. U.S. officials have said they would be paying close attention to the list, which could serve as a barometer for what inspectors have and haven't gotten from Iraq.
Iraq maintains that some Al Samouds traveled beyond a range limit set by the Security Council because they were tested without warheads or guidance systems, which made them lighter.
Al-Douri reiterated Friday that Iraq wants U.N. technical experts to come to Iraq to see that the missiles can't exceed 93 miles, and not limit themselves "to a written paper, a theoretical report."
But some former inspectors insist the technology Iraq chose for the Al Samoud 2 was clearly intended to support missile systems with longer ranges.
David Kay, a chief nuclear weapons inspector after the Gulf War, said he believes the Al-Samoud tests indicate Iraq is developing missiles to go consistently beyond 93 miles.
"I think it is worrying," he said, noting that the former U.N. inspection team told the Iraqis in 1997 that the Al Samoud missiles they were then building would exceed the limit "and not to do it."
"They went ahead," Kay said. "The Iraqis understood that if the payload were lighter it would go further. They played the game from very early on."