Putin in Paris 'anti-war' talks
PARIS, France -- Moves by European leaders to avert a war on Iraq are set to intensify with a three-day state visit to Paris by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin met German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Berlin on Sunday and the two leaders said after a meeting that they hoped Iraq could be disarmed of its weapons of mass destruction peacefully.
This was also broadly the attitude of two nations with veto powers at the U.N. Security Council -- France and China -- Putin said.
Meetings between Putin and French President Jacques Chirac on Monday are certain to be dominated by discussions on how to persuade the United States not to attack Baghdad -- moves which were given short shrift in Washington.
In Baghdad, two days of talks between the chief U.N. weapons inspectors and Iraqi officials gave the inspectors hope that Iraq was prepared to cooperate more fully and help avoid a war, but U.S. officials on Sunday dismissed the latest moves as too little, too late.
Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, said: "We're seeing the beginning of a change of heart on the part of Iraq."
But U.S. President George W. Bush called the apparent progress "not good enough."
"The job of the inspectors is not to negotiate with Iraq, but to verify whether or not Iraq has weapons of mass destruction," Bush said.
Figuring high in the Putin-Chirac talks on Monday will be a proposal spelled out by Germany to enhance U.N. inspections of Iraqi sites resumed late last year, viewed with deep suspicion by Washington.
The wrangling over Iraq has also landed NATO in deadlock, with France -- angered by U.S. pressure -- vetoing planning for the protection of alliance-member Turkey in the event of war with its neighbour Iraq.
Belgium supported the French veto, arguing that it was too early for the alliance to enter into a "war mind-set." (Full Story)
Washington had bitterly condemned the deadlock with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld telling Le Figaro newspaper that posturing over the protection of Turkey was a "disgrace."
With top U.N. weapons inspectors due to deliver an assessment of their work in Iraq to the Security Council on Friday, U.S. President George W. Bush said on Sunday the world body must move fast or be deemed irrelevant.
"We will disarm President Saddam Hussein if he will not disarm himself," Bush said, counting on the backing of close ally Britain and much of eastern Europe.
Washington also rejected a last-ditch European peace plan, spelled out by Germany on Saturday, to send U.N. troops to Iraq and to greatly enlarge the team of some 100 inspectors who have been in the country for the past two months.
Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N.'s atomic energy watchdog, were due to leave Baghdad on Monday after a weekend of talks which they had found encouraging.
But they said they had also told the Iraqis "that we need quick progress and drastic change."
"Yes, we have seen progress but we need quick progress," ElBaradei said ahead of Friday's report to the Security Council that could shorten the countdown to war. (Full story)
Some fresh documents were handed over by the Iraqis, who also said a decision on a demand for U-2 spy plane overflights would be made before Friday.
"We hope the flights could be resolved within the coming days," said presidential adviser General Amer al-Saadi, who led the Iraqi side in the talks.
On Sunday the Vatican said Pope John Paul II would send an envoy to Baghdad.
Vatican spokesman Jaoquin Navarro-Valls said Cardinal Roger Etchegaray's mission was to help Iraqi authorities consider the seriousness of the situation that faces them, encourage cooperation for the goal of peace and respect international law to secure the best resolution for the Iraqi people
Etchegaray, who has served as the pope's emissary to the Mideast and to China, was due to travel to Iraq on Monday.
U.S. frustration with European efforts to avoid a war with Iraq has boiled over at times with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accusing Germany and France of being part of "old Europe."
Rumsfeld said on Saturday that time was running out for action to be taken in Iraq. (Full Story)