BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – The U.N. chief weapons inspectors emerged from key talks with Iraq officials yesterday, saying they saw signs of a “change of heart” from Baghdad over disarmament demands and that further U.N. inspections were preferable to a quick U.S.-led military strike.
In two days of meetings with Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, Iraq officials handed over documents on anthrax, VX nerve gas and missile development. But Blix said there was still no immediate agreement on a key demand, using American U-2 surveillance planes to help inspections.
“We are not at all at the end of the road,” Blix told The Associated Press. “But nevertheless I’m bound to note, to register, nuances and this I think was a new nuance.”
The weekend session, ahead of Blix and ElBaradei’s report this week to the U.N. Security Council, could help decide the next steps taken by the council in the months-long standoff that has left the Middle East suspended between war and peace.
There was no immediate U.S. response to the inspectors’ comments. But with tens of thousands of American troops in the Persian Gulf preparing for war, President Bush reiterated Wednesday that it was time for action against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Saddam “wants the world to think that hide-and-seek is a game that we should play. And it’s over,” Bush told congressional Republicans at a policy conference. “It’s a moment of truth for the United Nations. The United Nations gets to decide shortly whether or not it is going to be relevant in terms of keeping the peace, whether or not its words mean anything.”
However, the United States was faced renewed opposition in Europe to an Iraq war. Germany’s defense minister said yesterday that Germany and France would present a proposal to the Security Council next week to send U.N. soldiers to disarm Iraq – a plan U.S. officials denounced as ineffective.
And Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country holds veto powers on the council, reiterated his strong opposition to military action against Baghdad.
“We are convinced that efforts for a peaceful resolution of the situation regarding Iraq should be persistently continued,” Putin told journalists after talks with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Berlin.
Putin also rejected U.S. goals of a “regime change” in Iraq. “The task of reckoning with Saddam Hussein does not stand before us,” Putin said in an interview with France-3 television, part of which was aired on Russian television yesterday. “There is nothing in the U.N. Charter that would allow the U.N. Security Council to make a decision to change the political regime of one country or another – whether we like that regime or not.”
Blix and ElBaradei, who make their next report to the U.N. Security Council on Friday, had gone into their weekend talks in Baghdad to press for greater cooperation on a range of issues.