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Sunday, 9 February, 2003, 16:45 GMT
'Good progress' at Iraqi talks
Mohammed ElBaradei (l) and Hans Blix
The talks were "useful", inspectors said
The chief UN arms inspectors have declared that good progress has been made during two days of talks on arms issues in Iraq this weekend.

While stressing that several important issues were outstanding and that co-operation must still be improved, both Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei said they had seen some positive signs - notably in the provision of documents.

"I see this as the beginning of a change of heart on the part of the Iraqis," said Mr ElBaradei - words echoed by Mr Blix.

"We are showing that an inspection can work and an inspection can provide an alternative to war."

The United States has already made clear that it does not hold much faith in inspections to resolve its standoff with Iraq, a stance supported by its close ally Britain.

Both are trying to build-up support for another invasion.

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

Mr Blix and MrElbaradei are due to present their latest report on Iraq to the United Nations Security Council on Friday, and have warned Baghdad that much needs to be done before then.

One particular issue highlighted by both inspectors was surveillance - Iraq is still refusing to allow spy planes to fly over its territory.

CURRENT SECURITY COUNCIL
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

France and Germany meanwhile are preparing a peace plan to be presented to the Security Council on the same day as the inspectors' report.

Russia - which like France may veto any Council action - says it will back the Franco-German proposals, which could include using UN troops to beef-up inspection teams.

'Mixed bag'

Mr Blix said Iraq has handed over more documents to the visiting inspectors with information about Baghdad's past weapons of mass destruction programmes.

More private interviews with scientists have also taken place, he said, although the quality of these meetings was a "mixed bag", he said.

More of these interviews need to take place, he said, along with legislation banning the development of prohibited weapons.

Mr Blix said he wants to have a decision on the deployment of surveillance planes before he makes his report to the Security Council on Friday. Franco-German plans

German Defence Minister Peter Struck confirmed on Sunday that new proposals for a peaceful solution developed by Paris and Berlin would be delivered to the UN on Friday - the same day as Mr Blix is scheduled to report.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to discuss the plan when he meets German Chancellor Schroeder on Sunday as part of a trip which will also include France.

His Defence Minister, Sergei Ivanov, said Russia would support the Franco-German ideas.

The German news magazine Der Spiegel said suggestions have included the deployment of armed UN troops to support inspectors and the use of French reconnaissance aircraft.

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

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who told the Munich conference that diplomacy was "exhausted almost", said he only knew of the plan through media reports.

The BBC's Steve Kingstone in Washington says the Americans are angry and believe they should have been informed.

However, our correspondent says that Washington's biggest problem with the proposals is that it does not believe that, at this stage, inspections can work.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer criticised the US position after Mr Rumsfeld's speech, saying he simply did not believe there was yet justification for war.

Pope John Paul II is also entering the discussions: he will meet Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz on Friday and is sending an envoy to Baghdad.

Allied air strike

While discussions continue, the US is stepping up its preparations for any war with Iraq.

The Pentagon says it will use nearly 50 civilian planes to help move troops to the Gulf.

A fifth aircraft carrier, the USS Kitty Hawk, has also been ordered to the region.

On Saturday, US and British warplanes attacked what they say was an Iraqi mobile air defence facility 150 kilometres (95 miles) south-east of Baghdad.

The US said the target was a threat to coalition aircraft patrolling the air exclusion zone they have declared in southern Iraq.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mike Sergeant
"The concessions may not be enough for the United States"
German SDP member of parliament Monica Griefahn
"If the French make a proposal it should be listened to"
Press conference with Hans Blix,
the chief UN weapons inspector

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