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Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 14:56 GMT
Nato tries to heal split over Iraq
Iraqis watch as a vehicle carrying UN inspectors passes
Calls are growing to extend weapons inspections
Intensive consultations are under way between the member governments of Nato to try to resolve a damaging dispute over when to start military preparations for a possible war against Iraq.

George W Bush
Bush: "Disappointed" with the French position

A formal meeting in Brussels of Nato ambassadors was postponed to 1530 GMT to allow further informal contacts, a Nato official said.

The crisis was triggered when France, Germany and Belgium on Monday blocked Nato plans to begin shipping defensive equipment to Turkey - the only Nato member bordering Iraq.

And in further evidence of opposition to Washington's Iraq policy, a senior German Government source has said that 11 out of the 15 members of the UN Security Council support prolonging weapons inspections in Iraq.

Washington responded with anger to the decision to hold up help for Turkey, warning it is impatient for a resolution.

"I don't understand that decision. It affects the alliance in a negative way," said US President George W Bush.

Time needed

The three countries opposing the move argue that sending Nato military equipment to Turkey would imply that diplomatic efforts to disarm Iraq and avert war had already failed.

"What's at stake is whether or not we give a little more time to diplomacy and to a process, a UN resolution, that we all agreed to at the Security Council," France's ambassador to Nato, Benoit d'Aboville, told the BBC.

US REQUEST FOR TURKEY
A US Patriot missile being launched
Patriot anti-missile batteries
Awacs surveillance planes
Chemical, biological protection units

Experts say it would take about 30 days to deploy the equipment, making time of the essence.

But Turkey will get the assistance it needs, whatever happens.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the US and the other alliance members would proceed with planning "outside of Nato if necessary".

However, Nato's future as a collective body could be irreparably damaged if it cannot agree to start the military planning process, the BBC's Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus says.

In other developments:

  • UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw rejects calls for more weapons inspections in Iraq, arguing that "even a 1,000-fold increase" in inspectors would achieve nothing

  • Greece confirms EU emergency summit on Iraq will go ahead next Monday

  • UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is to meet informally with all Security Council members to discuss UN preparations for any humanitarian emergency in the event of war

  • German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Tuesday holds talks with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a strong supporter of the American position on Iraq

  • Amnesty International urges the UN Security Council to face up to the human cost of any conflict in Iraq

Inspections issue

It is a crucial week in the crisis over Iraq.

The United Nations weapons inspectors are due to deliver a key report to the Security Council on Iraqi compliance this Friday.

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Lisa, Tel Aviv, Israel
Their verdict could pave the way for US-led military action if it proves negative.

But Germany, the current president of the Security Council, said all but four Council members back extending weapons inspections.

On Monday, Germany, France and Russia issued a declaration demanding increased inspections and a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Open in new window : Who backs war?
Where key nations stand on Iraq

China, which also has a Security Council veto, has welcomed the proposals.

Iraqi caution

However, Iraq has given an initial negative reaction to the appeal for strengthened inspections of its weapons programmes.

In an interview with an Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri, said he did not dispute the good faith of the French and Germans in putting forward their initiative.

"We have not been informed of the details of this proposal, but no Iraqi will accept the deployment of international forces," Mr Sabri said.

Iraq on Monday said that it would permit U-2 surveillance planes to fly over Iraq, a key demand of the UN weapons inspectors.

But Iraqi President Saddam Hussein later said that the US and UK should stop bombing the country's northern and southern "no-fly zones" .

President Bush dismissed the concession as merely an act to stall for time, and accused the Iraqi leader of deliberately placing his troops in civilian areas in an attempt to use Iraqis as human shields.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jim Fish
"The deadlock over Turkey remains top of the agenda"
Former Defence Secretary Michael Portillo
"This could be a mortal blow for Nato"
Former Nato Secretary General, Lord Carrington
"We have been through this before"

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See also:

11 Feb 03 | Middle East
11 Feb 03 | Politics
10 Feb 03 | Europe
11 Feb 03 | Europe
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