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Sunday, 9 February, 2003, 19:22 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. "I think we are leaving with a sense of cautious optimism."

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.

'Diversion'

The US appears infuriated by news on Sunday of a France-German peace initiative, which envisages the deployment of UN troops in Iraq to support an expanded team of weapons inspectors.

In Washington, the US Secretary of State Colin Powell said the plan was a diversion and that the real issue was whether Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was prepared to disarm.

"More inspectors don't answer the question," he said.

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

Mr ElBaradei said on Sunday that the Baghdad talks had proved that "an inspection can work and an inspection can provide an alternative to war".

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

But both he and Mr Blix, who are due to present their report on Iraq to the UN Security Council on Friday, emphasised that progress needed to be quicker.

Mr Blix said that while the Iraqis had provided prompt and open access to the sites inspectors wished to visit, which he described as "process", there were still problems with the provision of "substance".

One particular issue highlighted was the fact that Iraq has still not agreed to allow surveillance planes to monitor movements in the country, although Iraqi presidential advisor General Amer al-Saadi later told a news conference that Baghdad hoped to give an answer before the report is given on Friday.

Interviews with scientists without government monitors present, which Iraq first allowed this week, were to be welcomed, Mr Blix said, but the quality of these meetings had so far been a "mixed bag".

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

Analysis needed

Mr Blix said Iraq had this weekend handed over more documents to the visiting inspectors with information relating to a number of high-profile unresolved issues about Anthrax, its al-Fatah and al-Sumoud missiles and the nerve agent VX.

These papers, he said, would be handed to experts in New York for further analysis.

He said Baghdad had constructive propositions on how to check that its unaccounted-for weapons of mass destruction had indeed been destroyed, but it remained to be seen whether these plans would prove useful.

Mr Blix also told reporters that Iraq had agreed to form a commission to look for all documents pertaining to weapons programs.

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.

After a press conference with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was "almost completely in agreement" with the plan, adding that his country would work closely with France and Germany at the UN Security Council.

Mr Putin said at present he could see no reason to launch a war against Iraq.

"We are convinced that a one-sided use of force would lead to great suffering for the population and increase tension in the whole region," he said.

Russia and France, as permanent members of the UN Security Council, are in the position to veto any resolution authorising military action, should they wish.

Allied air strike

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

USS Kitty Hawk
America is busy building up its forces in the Gulf
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 Ragah Omaar
"There are signs of a change of heart in Baghdad"
Press conference with Hans Blix
chief UN weapons inspector

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10 Feb 03 | Europe
09 Feb 03 | Europe
08 Feb 03 | Europe
09 Feb 03 | Business
05 Feb 03 | Americas
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