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Blix delivers update, criticizes Iraq

©Associated Press
February 27, 2003

UNITED NATIONS -- As fresh signs emerged that the United States is making headway in winning support for military action against Iraq, chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix provided the Bush administration with new ammunition Wednesday, saying Baghdad has not provided evidence of "a fundamental decision" to disarm.

Blix welcomed Iraq's recent letters that contained new information about its weapons programs but said they did not represent "full cooperation or a breakthrough." Nonetheless, he noted that inspections resumed only in November after a four-year break and asked: "Is it the right time to close the door?"

The chief inspector's comments came hours before he delivered a 16-page written report on the progress of inspections and Iraq's cooperation to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who will then send it to the Security Council. Blix handed it in three days before the Saturday deadline.

Saturday is also the deadline Blix has set for Saddam Hussein to begin destroying Iraq's Al Samoud 2 missiles, their engines and components for exceeding a mandated 93-mile limit. Blix's report and Iraq's decision on the missiles are expected to be influential in whether the council supports a U.S.-backed resolution that would pave the way to war.

Mexico appeared to be the first among the undecided council members to shift toward the U.S. position, and an important Russian lawmaker, Mikhail Margelov, said Wednesday he doesn't believe his country would veto the resolution.

But the United States still faces an uphill struggle to win the nine "yes" votes and avoid a veto by France, China or Russia. It is now assured of British and Spanish support, and will likely get Bulgaria's and Mexico's votes.

Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington's closest ally, faced a major revolt Wednesday by members of his own Labor Party who oppose war now, though he won support in Parliament for his handling of the crisis.

The council meets today for its first closed-door discussion on the resolution and a rival French-Russian-German proposal to beef up inspections and continue them for at least four months.

In advance of the meeting, opponents and supporters of quick military action lobbied council members in New York and capitals around the world.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte and British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock held a meeting late Wednesday with the 10 nonpermanent council members. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a firm opponent of war, met in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said Moscow opposes any resolution that would trigger military action.

Mexico's shift came after President Bush placed a weekend phone call to Mexican President Vicente Fox, and after U.S. officials made visits to the country.

Mexico had been one of the most outspoken supporters of continued inspections, but Fox shifted his policy in an address on Tuesday. The new policy was then outlined in a foreign policy directive obtained by the Associated Press.

Washington and London want a vote on the resolution in mid March. That would be after Blix and nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei next brief the council, expected March 7.

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