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Wednesday, 13 November, 2002, 11:54 GMT
Iraq 'sought nerve gas antidote'
US aircraft carrier
The US says Iraq must comply or face military action
State Department officials in Washington say Iraq has been trying to import large amounts of atropine, a drug that can be used to counter the effects of nerve gas.

They say the move may indicate that Iraq is preparing to use nerve gas if it comes under attack from the United States, and wants to be able to protect its own troops or civilians from the effects of the agent.

A senior State Department official said Turkey had reported the order to the United Nations for investigation, and that the US Government was also looking into it.

There has been no official comment from the Turkish Government.


US Secretary of State Colin Powell said he thought Iraq might be trying to scare Washington, which is still waiting to hear whether Saddam Hussein will accept a UN resolution requiring the return of weapons inspectors.

"Maybe it was a threat or some effort at disinformation, I don't know," said Mr Powell. "I don't want to say what they intended."

The US says Iraq tried to order 1.25 million doses of atropine from Turkey, but the vast size of the order raised suspicions.

Next steps
Iraq must confirm whether it will "comply fully" with the resolution by Friday
Iraq then has 30 days to reveal all programmes, plants and materials which could be used for weapons production
Inspectors must be allowed to resume checks within 45 days of resolution being passed
Thereafter, inspectors have 60 days to report back to the Security Council but may report violations earlier

Mr Powell said it was not clear if Iraq had managed to acquire any deliveries of the drug, which is not subject to the trade embargo on the country enforced by the UN.

Iraq did possess nerve agents at the time of the Gulf War a decade ago but Saddam Hussein was successfully deterred from using them.

The BBC's State Department correspondent, Jon Leyne says the fear is that if there is a war in which the Iraqi leader's very survival is at stake, this time he may have no reason to hold back.

Deadline looms

The US revelations came shortly after Iraq's parliament unanimously rejected the new United Nations resolution which requires Baghdad to allow complete access to all suspected weapons' site.

Colin Powell at meeting with Kofi Annan
Powell said he did not know if Iraq had acquired atropine
The final decision on whether to allow the inspectors back in however lies with Saddam Hussein.

He has until Friday to make up his mind. If he does not accept the terms, he faces the prospect of military action.

President George W Bush said on Tuesday the time for negotiations was over and he repeated that if Saddam Hussein did not act, the US would.

"There's no more time," he said. "There is a zero tolerance policy now. The last 11 years have been a period of time when this guy (Saddam) tried to deceive the world and we're through with it."

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the Iraqi leader had no intention of disarming and was already busy hiding his weapons of mass destruction.

The BBC's Matt Prodger
"The White House says Saddam's up to his old tricks"
The BBC's Jon Leyne
"The fear is Iraq may want to protect its own troops before launching an attack"
US President George Bush
"We're through negotiations, there's no more time"

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See also:

12 Nov 02 | Middle East
10 Nov 02 | Middle East
10 Sep 02 | Middle East
12 Nov 02 | Business
12 Nov 02 | Middle East
13 Nov 02 | Media reports
13 Nov 02 | Health
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