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Last Updated:  Saturday, 1 March, 2003, 20:21 GMT
Iraq destroys four banned missiles
UN inspector and al-Samoud missile
Iraq denies the missiles breach UN rules
Iraq has destroyed four of its banned al-Samoud II missiles, meeting a deadline imposed by chief United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix.

"I can confirm now that four al-Samoud missiles have been destroyed," spokesman Hiro Ueki said.

"One casting chamber was destroyed at another site south of Baghdad," he added.

Mr Blix's deputy Dimitri Perricos said Baghdad would dismantle the rest of the medium-range missiles within a "few days or a very short few weeks".

Mr Blix has described the move as "very significant" but the United States and the UK remain highly sceptical.

The UN says the missiles breach range limits it imposed after the 1991 Gulf War.

Iraq insists the missiles overshot their allowed limit only because they were tested without heavy guidance systems or warheads.

It is believed there are 70-100 of the missiles in Iraq.

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

The White House was unimpressed with events in Baghdad.

"Resolution 1441 called for complete, total and immediate disarmament. It did not call for pieces of disarmament," said Merci Viana, a presidential spokeswoman.

"This is a very significant piece of real disarmament," Mr Blix said when Iraq said it would destroy the missiles.

In a draft report written before Baghdad's decision to comply with the Saturday deadline, Mr Blix told the UN Security Council that inspections had produced "very limited results".

He formally submitted that report - said to be very similar to the draft - to the UN on Friday evening, but said afterwards that it had been largely overtaken by events.

UN officials also confirmed on Saturday that weapons inspectors had conducted their first private interviews with Iraqi scientists for three weeks; one was a biologist, another an engineer.

In other developments:

  • Turkey's parliament narrowly fails to approve the deployment of US troops on its territory for a possible war with neighbouring Iraq

  • The United Arab Emirates proposes to the Arab League summit in Egypt that Saddam Hussein and fellow leaders should go into exile to avert war

  • UN weapons inspectors conduct their first private interview with Iraqi scientists for three weeks; one was a biologist, another an engineer

  • Pope John Paul has written a message to President Bush outlining his concerns about a possible war in Iraq, and will send a senior cardinal to Washington in the next few days to deliver the letter.

The BBC's Adam Brookes reports from Baghdad
"This was a much needed success for the inspectors"

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