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Sunday, 9 February, 2003, 03:22 GMT
Blix hails 'useful' Baghdad talks
Mohammed ElBaradei and Hans Blix
ElBaradei and Blix had a good first day
The UN chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, has said that a first day of talks in Iraq has been "very substantial".

A UN source said that the Iraqis had handed over documents and held more than four hours of talks with Mr Blix and his colleague, Mohammed ElBaradei.

The inspectors are due to make a crucial report to the United Nations Security Council next Friday, which could bring war on Iraq a step closer.

The US has maintained pressure on European allies to back possible military action, but the UN secretary general has strongly warned against any unilateral American strike.

Kofi Annan said military action should only be taken when all other means of disarming Iraq had failed.

Open in new window : Iraq facts
A statistical view of daily life in Iraq

"War is always a human catastrophe, a course that should only be considered when all other possibilities have been exhausted," said Mr Annan in a speech at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia.

"It is an issue not for any one state, but for the international community as a whole."

US President George W Bush has challenged the Security Council to "make up its mind" over how to disarm Iraq, and has threatened to act unilaterally if the UN failed to act.

The UN wants increased Iraqi co-operation on a range of issues, including allowing more Iraqi scientists to be interviewed in private and permitting U2 surveillance planes to fly over Iraq.

A fifth Iraqi scientist was interviewed on Saturday, according to foreign ministry sources.

The interview had been requested by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and lasted two-and-a-half hours in private at a Baghdad hotel, a ministry spokesman said.

UN divided

Correspondents say the White House will be keeping a keen eye on events in Baghdad this weekend.

Efforts will be made to squash any suggestion that the Iraqis are moving towards co-operation, they say.

Open in new window : Powell's report
View the photographic evidence

At an international security conference in Germany on Saturday, the US defence secretary warned that the world must be "prepared to use force if necessary" to disarm Iraq.

"Diplomacy has been exhausted almost," Mr Rumsfeld said.

Russia, France and China have called for inspections to be given more time.

UN Security Council
For military action: US*, UK*, Spain and Bulgaria
Sceptics or opposed: France*, Russia*, China*, Germany and Syria
In doubt: Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan
Nine votes and no veto required to pass a resolution

*veto-wielding countries

But German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer directly challenged the United States over the justifications for possible military action.

"I am not convinced... I cannot go to the public and say these are the reasons because I don't believe in them," he told a European defence conference in Munich.

Germany and France are preparing a new UN initiative to prevent war.

The plan reportedly deploying UN troops to Iraq to support beefed-up weapons searches, declaring the whole of Iraq a no-fly zone, and tightening sanctions on exports to Iraq.

For its part, Britain - America's staunchest ally - is reportedly drafting its own UN resolution authorising force against Iraq in time for when Mr Blix and Mr ElBaradei report back next Friday.

But Pope John Paul II has called for renewed efforts to avoid a war.

"One must not resign oneself, almost as if the war were inevitable," he said.

The Pope will meet Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz next Friday, and Mr Annan the following week.

As the diplomatic tussling continued, America stepped up its preparations for war by ordering a fifth aircraft carrier, the USS Kitty Hawk, to the Gulf.

Three other aircraft carriers are already there and a fourth is on its way.

The BBC has learnt that the US navy plans to have at least 30 ships and submarines equipped with cruise missiles ready for action against Iraq - many more than in the Gulf war.

The BBC's Rageh Omaar
"Dr Blix gave a cautious assessment of the first day of talks"
The BBC's Peter Biles
"The US administration remains as hawkish as ever"

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See also:

08 Feb 03 | Europe
08 Feb 03 | Middle East
07 Feb 03 | Middle East
07 Feb 03 | Middle East
05 Feb 03 | Americas
28 Jan 03 | Americas
27 Jan 03 | Americas
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