Iraq Begins Destroying Missiles

Saddam Hussein, Al Samoud II missile, Iraq, nuclear
Iraq began destroying its Al Samoud 2 missiles Saturday as ordered by the United Nations and agreed with weapons inspectors on a timetable to dismantle the entire missile program, U.N. and Iraqi officials said.

The first four missiles were destroyed in a sprawling military complex on a desert plain just north of Baghdad, with U.N. weapons inspectors watching, said U.N. deputy chief inspector Demitrius Perricos.

Perricos said it took longer than expected -- Iraqis tried running the missiles over with a bulldozer, but they proved too sturdy, so they had to bring in a bigger bulldozer.

"They built it very strong," joked Perricos.

Iraq is believed to have more than 100 of the missiles. Perricos said the timetable for destruction was "a matter of a few days or a very short few weeks."

He added that it would be in Iraq's interest to accelerate the destruction.

Perricos also said Saturday that one of two casting chambers used to build the missiles had been removed, and Iraqi officials said it would be destroyed Sunday.

Saturday was the deadline for beginning the destruction of the finned, white rockets and all their components because tests indicated some fly farther than allowed.

Inspectors also scheduled further interviews with Iraqi scientists Saturday, following private interviews the night before with a biological weapons expert and a missile scientist, Perricos said.

But it was unclear whether Saturday's sessions occurred, inspectors' spokesman Hiro Ueki said.

Biological, chemical and missiles teams had not conducted an interview since Feb. 7 in a dispute over whether the scientists could record them, which the inspectors felt would make them less candid.

The interviews and the missile destruction - both key demands of the weapons inspectors - were likely to affect next week's address to the deeply divided U.N. Security Council by chief inspector Hans Blix, who praised the decision to destroy the missiles. "It is a very significant piece of real disarmament," he said.

They were also further signs that Iraq is scrambling to show cooperation with the U.N. disarmament program to stave off an American attack.

But the United States dismissed the step as insufficient and deceptive.

"Resolution 1441 called for complete, total and immediate disarmament. It did not call for pieces of disarmament," Merci Viana, a spokeswoman, said. "The president has always predicted that Iraq would destroy its Al Samoud missiles as part of its game of deception."

On Friday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, to avoid war, Saddam Hussein needs to undertake a "big and dramatic" gesture, not a "show destruction" of a few missiles in a parking lot. The only ture way for Iraq to avoid war, Fleischer added, is "disarmament and regime change."

President Bush, meanwhile, continued to broaden his rationale for war in the face of growing worldwide opposition, saying in Saturday's weekly radio address that the United States is committed to providing relief aid during any conflict in Iraq and to establishing a democratic regime for Iraqis after a war.

In a condensed version of a speech he delivered on television Wednesday, Mr. Bush said he is determined to protect Americans from the threat Saddam poses.

"It will be difficult to help freedom take hold in a country that has known three decades of dictatorship, secret police, internal divisions and war," Mr. Bush, who is spending the weekend at Camp David, said. "Yet the security of our nation and the hopes of millions depend on us, and Americans do not turn away from duties because they are hard."

In a blow to U.S. preparations for an Iraq war, Turkey's parliament speaker nullified the legislature's vote Saturday to allow deployment of 62,000 U.S. combat troops to open a northern front against Iraq. The speaker ruled that a majority of legislators present had not voted in favor. The vote was 264-250 with 19 abstentions, four short of a simple majority. Parliament was then closed until Tuesday.

In Sharm el-Sheike, Egypt, a fractious Arab summit ended Saturday with an anti-war declaration and plans to follow up with talks on resolving the Iraq crisis in Baghdad, Washington, European capitals and at the United Nations.

Earlier at the summit, the United Arab Emirates became the first Arab nation to openly call for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to step down to spare the region war. Emirates Information Minister Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan told reporters the proposal made by his father, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, was not seriously considered because the 22-member "Arab League doesn't have the courage to discuss it."

A U.S.-backed draft resolution that would open the door for military action is before the U.N. Security Council. But European governments opposed to war said Iraq's decision on the missiles reinforced their opinion that weapons inspections were succeeding in weakening Saddam Hussein's military without war.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a radio interview aired in Paris Saturday that the United States was giving more time to weapons inspectors in Iraq and that the new U.S-backed resolution would not be voted on immediately.

"We are giving the inspections process more time, as many have asked for," he said. "But in the end, one must conclude we can't go on very long like that."

France - which has veto power at the U.N. Security Council - is strongly opposed to the resolution, and has taken the lead among nations seeking to give U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq more time and better means to do their job.

And former French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine suggested in an interview to be published Sunday that if the U.S. draft resolution were put to a vote, France could be forced to use that veto.

"France would have its back to the wall," Vedrine told Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper. If France "wants to remain coherent, it cannot not use its veto in the face of a resolution which would clearly be an authorization for the use of force."

A top Russian diplomat seized upon Powell's statement Saturday. "We can only welcome the fact that the authors of a new draft resolution are not seeking any hasty voting in the U.N. Security Council," Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said, according to the Interfax news agency. "This provides needed breathing space for various U.N. Security Council members to try to bring their positions on resolving the Iraq conflict closer." Fedotov said Russia would do its best to "heal the rift in the Security Council."

Russia's foreign minister had threatened on Friday to veto the new resoluton.

In a 13-page report delivered to the U.N. Security Council on Friday, Blix was highly critical of Iraq's overall disarmament efforts in the last three months, calling them "very limited so far."

But the report was written before the two latest developments, and Blix said a shift in Iraq's compliance could change the tone of his address to the Security Council.

U.S. analysts worry that if Iraq is still hiding chemical and biological weapons, it could load them on the Al Samoud 2 to target U.S. forces deployed in the Persian Gulf region, now 225,000 strong.

CBS News correspondent David Martin reports there have been some suspicious movements by Iraqi warplanes that may indicate Iraq is considering trying to get in a first strike.

Iraq has begun taking inspectors to disposal sites where it says it unilaterally destroyed biological weapons.

Inspectors returned Saturday to al-Aziziya, an abandoned helicopter airfield 60 miles southeast of Baghdad where Iraq says it destroyed R-400 bombs filled with biological weapons in 1991.

At the site, bulldozers moved mounds of earth to reveal rusty, dirt-caked warheads and bomb fragments, some as large as cars. Nearby, missiles bearing U.N. identification tags rusted in a parched field.

An American U-2 reconnaissance plane flew over Iraq for more than six hours Friday - the fourth such flight in support of the U.N. inspections, Iraq said.

Inspectors also visited a military unit responsible for securing Saddam's hometown, Tikrit, and a base of the elite Republican Guard near Baghdad on Saturday.

Travelers and U.S. intelligence sources have recently reported that the Republican Guard has been converging on Tikrit and Baghdad, preparing for what many see as a final stand in the event of a U.S. invasion.

And, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips, there was another indication Saturday of how much this inspection process is hanging by a thread: the UN admitted there is an emergency evacuation plan ready to get the inspectors out of the country in a hurry if war begins.