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 Friday, 17 January, 2003, 08:35 GMT
Iraq crisis gathers new momentum
Warhead found at Ukhaider
The warheads were in 'excellent condition' the UN says
The United Nations' chief weapons inspector Hans Blix is to brief French and British leaders on Friday, as the inspections process in Iraq acquires a new sense of urgency.

Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix
Blix: asking for more time for inspectors
The forthcoming meetings with French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair follow the discovery on Thursday of what inspectors described as empty warheads designed to carry chemical weapons at a military storage area.

Earlier, Mr Blix called on Iraq to do more to substantiate its claims that it has destroyed banned weapons, or risk a US-led war.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein warned on Friday that anyone who tries to invade his country will be defeated.

Baghdad defiant

Mr Blix, briefing EU officials in Brussels on Thursday, said Iraq had either to provide evidence - such as archives and budgets - that it had destroyed suspected weapons of mass destruction, or surrender what it might have for destruction.

The US has threatened military action if Iraq is found to have breached a recent UN resolution which obliged it to list all its weapons.

A spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mark Gwozdecky, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Friday that it would be premature to say how significant the warhead find was without proper checks.

Friday is also the 12th anniversary of the American-led air attacks which began the Gulf War.

In a defiant speech to mark the occasion, the Iraqi leader said Baghdad had defended itself with determination 12 years ago, defeating the "evil troops" of dozens of countries.

Anyone who tried to climb over the walls of Baghdad now, he said, would fail in the attempt.

"Baghdad, its people and leadership, is determined to force the Mongols of our age to commit suicide at its gates," the Iraqi leader said, referring to the Mongol armies who sacked the Iraqi capital in 1258.

Mixed messages

The BBC's James Coomarasamy in Paris says France has yet to make any comment on the discovery of the warheads and is likely to reserve judgement for the time being.

Nearly four tons of VX nerve agents
Growth media for 20,000 litres of biological warfare agents
15,000 shells for use in biological warfare
6,000 chemical warfare bombs
Nuclear information

But in the meantime, our correspondent says, Paris is sending mixed messages about the French diplomatic stance in this crisis.

It wants another UN resolution before military force is used against Baghdad - however, Mr Chirac has warned his troops to be prepared for anything in the coming year.

Mr Blair has also been reluctant to comment on Thursday's discovery - Britain and America are waiting for the results of more detailed analysis of the warheads.

The discovery may be viewed by the US and Britain as part of a pattern of infringements by Iraq.

But BBC world affairs correspondent Peter Biles says Mr Blair is likely to agree with Mr Blix that inspectors need more time to do their work.

After the meeting, Mr Blix will fly out to Baghdad to meet up with his inspection team, before giving a preliminary report to the UN Security Council in New York on 27 January.

'No smoking gun'

It is not clear whether the warheads discovered by weapons inspectors ever contained banned chemicals - experts have taken away samples for testing.

16 Jan - Chief UN inspector Hans Blix briefs EU
19 Jan - Blix meets top Iraqi officials in Baghdad
27 Jan - First full report on inspections presented to UN
29 Jan - UN discusses report
31 Jan - Bush meets Blair
15 Feb - Anti-war protests across Europe
27 Mar - Blix submits new report to UN

An Iraqi spokesman said the weapons were old discarded artillery rockets - not chemical or biological warheads.

UN spokesman Hiro Ueki said 11 chemical rocket warheads - and a 12th that requires further evaluation - were uncovered at the Ukhaider depot, south of Baghdad.

None of the weapons had been declared by the Iraqi Government, he added.

Mr Ueki did not elaborate on the significance of the find - but the UN office in Baghdad has since told the BBC that they did not immediately consider the discovery to be a "smoking gun".

  The BBC's Jim Fish
"The speech was preparing its people for war"
  Saddam Hussein, Iraq President
"We have determined and planned to defeat the aggressors"
  Hans Blix, Chief UN Weapons Inspector
"I think we were lucky, there are no chemical weapons inside them"
  Jacques Chirac, French President
"It is clear that it is up to Iraq to show it's active co-operation"

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See also:

17 Jan 03 | Middle East
16 Jan 03 | Middle East
16 Jan 03 | Politics
16 Jan 03 | Middle East
15 Jan 03 | Middle East
01 Oct 02 | Middle East
14 Jan 03 | Americas
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