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Last Updated:  Sunday, 23 February, 2003, 23:01 GMT
Iraq 'still studying' UN demand
General Amin
General Amin - destruction of the missiles would not cripple Iraq
Iraq is still studying a UN order to destroy its al-Samoud II missiles and has not yet made a decision, says the country's head of weapons monitoring.

General Hossam Mohamed Amin said he hoped the issue would be resolved without the intervention of the US or Britain.

In a letter handed to the Iraqis on Friday, chief UN inspector Hans Blix set a 1 March deadline to begin destroying the missiles - it is being seen as a key test of whether Saddam Hussein will disarm to avoid war.

In a further anti-war gesture, Pope John Paul II called on Roman Catholics around the world to dedicate a day of fasting next month to prayers for peace.

We are serious about solving this
General Hossam Mohamed Amin
The latest moves came as the United States and three of its staunchest allies launched a diplomatic drive to secure the UN Security Council votes needed to pass a new resolution against Iraq.

But France - a veto-wielding member of the Council - repeated on Sunday that it was opposed to a new resolution.

"The inspectors confirm there is progress. That's why in this context, we are opposed to a new resolution," Foreign Minister Dominique Villepin told Le Figaro newspaper.

Iraqi warning

Iraq's General Amin earlier said there was no need for a new resolution because his country had fully co-operated with the UN inspectors.

He said that so far 780 operations had been carried out by 32 UN teams.

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

He also cited Baghdad's acceptance of the use of surveillance planes as an example of Iraqi compliance.

On the missile issue, he said: "We are serious in investigating this issue.

"We hope this will be solved without American or British intervention... those who have evil intentions."

General Amin said that, although the destruction of the al-Samoud missiles would hurt his country's ability to fight, it would not cripple it.

The UN says the range of the al-Samoud missile exceeds the limit set after the 1991 Gulf War.

Council difficulties

The US and UK have said work is already under way on a draft version of a new resolution, which could be presented to the Council as early as Monday.

Security Council delegates
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

The new text is expected to declare Baghdad in material breach of resolution 1441, which was passed in November.

The November text threatened "serious consequences" if Iraq broke the terms of Resolution 1441 - which the US insists Baghdad has already done.

For the resolution to be passed, it needs to be approved by at least nine of the 15 Security Council members.

Permanent members France, Russia and China all oppose the US hardline, but it remains unclear whether they will go so far as to wield their veto.

Germany and Syria also oppose action, while only four members - the US, Britain, Spain and Bulgaria - have said they would vote in favour of it.

The votes of the six members who have not yet made up their minds will therefore be crucial if the US is to win the mandate it wants to force President Saddam Hussein to surrender any weapons of mass destruction.

Russia, France and China stress that all political and diplomatic means to resolve the crisis should be exhausted before the use of force is considered.



The BBC's Mike Wooldridge
"France says it will not support the resolution"

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