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Sunday, 16 February, 2003, 16:19 GMT
Iraqi missile find raises tensions
Destroyed missiles at an Iraqi site
Iraq has been developing its own missiles for years
Fresh allegations that Iraq is in breach of United Nations disarmament resolutions have been levelled at Baghdad after the discovery of a missile that marginally exceeds the maximum range set by the UN.

Tactical surface-to-surface ballistic missile powered by liquid fuel
Tested at range of 183 km - in excess of UN 150 km limit
Diameter also in excess of prescribed limit
May be able to deliver biological or chemical warhead

However, it has emerged that it was Baghdad itself that informed arms inspectors about the existence of the al-Samoud II missile, which experts say has a range of more than 150 kilometres (93 miles).

The UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who has consistently echoed Washington's tough stance on Iraq, warned that the missile find could amount to a "significant breach" of UN resolutions.

Click here for map showing missile range from Iraqi border

But the BBC's Rageh Omaar says the fact that Iraq had come clean about the missile is bound to be used by those countries which believe a peaceful disarmament process could work, and which want the inspectors to be given more time.

'Proof of co-operation'

Russian diplomat Yury Fedotov, speaking at the UN, said that the situation surrounding the missiles "should be regarded not as Iraq's violation of its disarmament commitments, but as proof of its co-operation with the inspectors and of the fact that the inspections are effective".

Most members of the Security Council - including France, Germany and China, as well as Russia - believe inspectors need more time.

US troops in Kuwait
The US is on the lookout for any major weapons breach
France and Germany, along with Belgium, have also incurred US wrath by vetoing Nato's plans to start preparations to help defend Iraq's neighbour Turkey in the event of war.

They fear that military moves to protect Turkey would imply that war is inevitable, and undermine efforts to secure a peaceful end to the stand-off.

An emergency meeting to discuss the matter on Thursday was postponed after Germany said any decision would have to wait until the chief weapons inspector reports to the UN on his progress with Baghdad on Friday.

'Just over the limit'

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz has insisted that the missile range is within the limits set by the United Nations.

When a missile doesn't have a guidance system it goes five, 10, 15 kilometres beyond (target) - that is not very dangerous

Tariq Aziz
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister
But a panel of experts summoned by UN weapons inspectors said the missile could travel up to 180km (112 miles), just over the 150km limit imposed by the UN after the Gulf War.

This would be enough to hit Kuwait, for example, but not enough to reach Israel.

Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix is expected to brief the UN Security Council about the missile on Friday when he delivers a crucial report about Iraqi disarmament.

Second UN resolution

German Defence Minister Peter Struck said a decision on helping Turkey would be taken at the latest by Saturday, and "will absolutely satisfy Turkish interests".

It is unclear whether this will amount to Berlin dropping its opposition, and whether France and Belgium will also agree.

25 November 2002: Weapons inspectors return to Iraq
21 December 2002: Blix asks US and UK for key intelligence
16 January: empty chemical warheads found
27 January: Inspectors report to UN
9 February: Iraq 'more cooperative'
The Nato split, the worst in decades, has highlighted the major gulf between several key European states and the United States on Iraq, as well as divisions within Europe itself.

On Monday, the European Union will hold an emergency summit to try to end what is becoming a deep and damaging split among its 15 members.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is also expected to attend.

Mr Blair has already written to his EU partners urging them not to rule out the prospect of military action if it was necessary, according to EU diplomats.

Mr Blair is keen to gain a second UN resolution authorising force against Iraq, faced with rising public opposition to war at home.

His ally, President George W Bush, has made it clear that while he would welcome a second resolution, the absence of one would not stop the US going to war at the head of a "coalition of the willing".

He reiterated the US position on Thursday, speaking before cheering officers and sailors at a naval base in Florida.

Allies divided

The inspectors first learned of the Iraqi missile's range from documents handed over to Mr Blix during his visit to Baghdad last weekend.

Camera crew waits outside Nato HQ
The split within Nato has frayed tempers

Mr Aziz said "the main problem is that Iraqi missiles which are of a very short range don't have a guidance system, and when a missile doesn't have a guidance system it goes five, 10, 15 kilometres beyond (target)".

He insisted that "that is not very dangerous and must not be exaggerated".

He was speaking at the start of a four-day visit to Italy and the Vatican - a trip likely to embarrass Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a staunch US ally.

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The BBC's Matt Frei in Washington
"George W Bush already behaves like a war-time president"
Tariq Aziz, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister
"There has been no serious violation"

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See also:

13 Feb 03 | Middle East
13 Feb 03 | Middle East
12 Feb 03 | Americas
13 Feb 03 | Americas
12 Feb 03 | Middle East
12 Feb 03 | Politics
11 Feb 03 | Europe
12 Feb 03 | Media reports
11 Feb 03 | Americas
13 Feb 03 | Politics
13 Feb 03 | Middle East
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