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Germany warns U.S. over Iraq plans

An Iraqi soldier guards the U.N. HQ in Baghdad
An Iraqi soldier guards the U.N. HQ in Baghdad

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UNITED NATIONS -- Germany has warned the U.S. against unilateral military action in Iraq, reinforcing divisions on how to deal with President Saddam Hussein.

The warning came after two former heads of U.N. disarmament teams cautioned the international community against trusting Saddam's word.

They spoke out after the current arms inspection chief, Hans Blix, met Iraqi diplomats to arrange details for his team's deployment. (Full story)

Iraq has said it would allow the return of inspectors without conditions, a move that has threatened to split the U.N. Security Council which has been working towards a resolution on Iraq that all permanent members can sign up to. (Full story)

While Washington and London have expressed doubts at Iraq's sincerity, Germany, Russia, France and China have been largely supportive of the Baghdad move.

Germany, which has staunchly opposed any military moves against Iraq, said it still feared the U.S. might take unilateral action if it could not win international support at the U.N.

The U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission is responsible for overseeing destruction of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons and long-range delivery systems.

Staff: 63 people from 17 countries

Available experts: 220 experts from 44 countries

Unresolved Issues: Questions about the destruction of Scud-B fuel and oxidizer, and the fate of 122mm rocket warheads

Practical concerns: Establishing offices in Iraq; communication; security; entry and exit from Iraq; landing sites; and oversight.

Source: The Associated Press

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said on Wednesday that the U.N. should be allowed to test Saddam's offer and urged Washington to stop making threats.

"In no case should we escalate," Fischer told Germany ZDF television. "There's still a big danger of war, and that is a point where we really have a differing opinion."

Fischer said Washington's continued talk of regime change would put the U.N. "in a very difficult situation ... that is the decisive issue. The goal is not to bring about regime change."

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has been the most outspoken among the U.S. administration's European partners in opposing military action against Iraq.

The U.S. believes Iraq has developed weapons of mass destruction since arms inspectors left the country in 1998 ahead of U.S.-UK air strikes ordered when Iraq was deemed to be not complying with the arms teams.

President George W. Bush has said he wants to see weapons inspectors back in Iraq and has also insisted there needs to be a "regime change" in Baghdad.

Iraq says the weapons issue is an excuse to oust Saddam to install a U.S.-friendly government, and that control of Iraq's oil reserves is the real goal.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said the decision to allow inspectors into the country without conditions had removed any reason to launch military action.

But Richard Butler, chief weapons inspector from 1997-1999, told CNN that the commitment, made in a letter to the U.N., "has a big black hole in it." (Text of letter)

He said: "It is a very snakey letter. Without unfettered access, we haven't got a snowball's chance in hell.

"'Come back to the country without conditions' sounds good, but what we really needed to hear (was) you can inspect without conditions," Butler added.

David Kay, who served as the chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991-93, doubted that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction could be discovered and destroyed without at least 1,000 inspectors and 100 helicopters.

"Things are being hidden. The Iraqis have mobilised, militarised... moved things around, moved them into facilities that are inherently difficult to inspect," he said.

Blix, the current chairman of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), met an Iraqi delegation on Tuesday in what a Baghdad official called "useful and fruitful" discussions on the return of weapons inspectors.

Both sides agreed to meet again in 10 days in Vienna, Austria, to "finalise the practical arrangement," Iraqi ambassador Saeed Hasan said.

Blix: Attempting to negotiate a return of inspectors to Iraq
Blix: Attempting to negotiate a return of inspectors to Iraq

He also said the delegation "reiterated and expressed the eagerness of Iraq for the speedy and smooth resumption" of weapons inspections.

"We are looking forward to meeting [again] with Ambassador Blix and UNMOVIC officials to finalise their work and go ahead in order to implement fully all the provisions of Security Council resolutions in order to lift sanctions and return the situation to normal."

The meeting was held amid warnings from President George W. Bush that the world body "must not be fooled."

Bush said the Security Council "must act in a way to hold this regime to account and must not be fooled -- it must be relevant to keep the peace."

Russia, a long-time friend of Iraq and a permanent member of the Security Council, said Baghdad's offer could see inspections resume without the need for further resolutions.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said the U.N. Security Council would now consider whether a new resolution would still be needed in the light of Iraq's change of heart.

And Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said: "We hope that Iraq will comprehensively implement the U.N. resolutions to create the necessary conditions for the orderly and peaceful resolution of the Iraq issue."

In Italy, Pope John Paul said Iraq's decision to permit the return of U.N. weapons inspectors was "good news."

Speaking at his weekly general audience in Rome, the pope said Baghdad's move signalled "the possible resumption of Iraq's co-operation with the international community."

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