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Aziz: Destroying missiles would be 'unacceptable'

Iraqi envoy dismisses idea of peacekeeping force

Pope John Paul II greets Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz before their talks at the Vatican.
Pope John Paul II greets Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz before their talks at the Vatican.

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ROME, Italy (CNN) -- Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said in an interview with CNN on Saturday that it would be "unacceptable" for U.N. weapons inspectors to destroy Iraqi missiles found to violate U.N. limits and dismissed the idea of sending U.N. peacekeepers to Iraq.

A team of independent experts, commissioned by Hans Blix, chief of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), determined that during testing, Iraq's Al Samoud 2 missiles traveled more than 93 miles (about 150 kilometers), the range limit allowed by previous U.N. resolutions restricting Iraq's weapons capability.

Aziz said the missiles exceeded the range by less than six miles and only because they lacked guidance systems. He said they do not pose a threat that would warrant their destruction.

"They should not be destroyed because they are practically within the range we are allowed to have," he said. "It would be quite unfair and unacceptable by any scientific and security standards ... Destruction should be based on a reason, a reason linked with questions of security and peace."

While on a trip to Rome to meet with Pope John Paul II, Aziz also dismissed a reported plan to send U.N. peacekeepers to Iraq.

"Iraq is a sovereign state. It has provided all of the security needed to re-inspect us, and we don't need United Nations troops to interfere or to be in our country," he said.

French officials have confirmed that they have discussed with Germany and other U.N. Security Council members several proposals short of war that would increase pressure on Baghdad.

European media reported that those proposals include sending a U.N. peacekeeping force into Iraq to give the inspections regimen more teeth, though French and German ministers have denied that a plan to send several thousand troops to Iraq had been agreed upon.

Aziz said the Iraqi government would comment "formally" on a peacekeeper proposal only if one is made.

U.N. weapons inspectors have also been pressing Iraq to allow scientists involved in weapons-related work to be interviewed privately. Aziz said Iraq has promised to encourage them to do so, but he also defended the practice of scientists bringing tape recorders into those interviews.

"What's wrong in taking a tape recorder?" Aziz said. "If I want to talk to you about anything, I will put a tape recorder that will help me be reminded of what I said."

He said the suggestion that scientists might not feel free to talk candidly if their conversations were taped was a "political accusation."

Inspectors' report shows 'progress'

Aziz also described Friday's report on the progress of the inspection efforts by Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as "positive" and said it showed "progress" in the inspections program.

"My assessment is that the outcome which the majority of the Security Council reached was, and is, that inspectors should be given enough time to continue their work," he said. "We hope that UNMOVIC and the IAEA are honestly, professionally trying to seek the truth. In this regard, we are ready to cooperate fully, and we are cooperating fully.

"We are becoming more and more forthcoming with them because it is in our interest. We have to do it. We want this job to be finished as soon as possible."

Responding to criticisms by Blix and ElBaradei that Iraq has not provided full documentation of its weapons programs, Aziz said, "Not every activity is fully documented" and that material might have been lost during the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and a U.S.-led bombing in 1998.

He said Iraqi officials are "not sitting in an air-conditioned building putting archives one beside the other, and then when somebody comes ... you present all the communication. There is a quite different situation in Iraq after 1991 until now."

Aziz confirmed that during their meeting Friday, the pope pressed Iraq to do more to cooperate with U.N. inspection efforts in order to avoid military action. But Aziz said he was "not annoyed" by those comments.

"There is a difference in motive. When an impartial, good-willing person like the Holy Father says that, I am not annoyed," he said. "But when an American source says that, which has a different motive, that's different."


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