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NATO: Robertson Says Iraq Disagreement 'Very Serious'

Brussels, 10 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson says an argument within NATO over military planning in case of a war against Iraq is "very serious." Speaking today after Turkey invoked formal consultations under Article 4 of the NATO treaty, Robertson said, however, that NATO members are seeking consensus with focus and determination.

"This is undoubtedly a difficult situation, but allies have had differences before and they will undoubtedly have more in the future. What matters is to arrive at a consensus, and I'm confident that we will," Robertson said.

Turkey called for consultations after Belgium, France, and Germany blocked planning for deployment of surveillance planes, missiles and antichemical- and antibiological-warfare teams to protect Turkey in case of war.

The United States had pressed for more than three weeks for the alliance to start military planning. Unable to secure agreement, Robertson announced that planning would begin today unless a NATO member objected.

In related news, the German government said today it supports a French proposal to increase the number of inspectors looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Germany and France have led European resistance to U.S. insistence on using force if necessary to disarm Iraq.

But German Defense Minister Peter Struck and government spokesman Bela Anda said there is no formal French-German peace plan for Iraq, and Struck said that as of now, the proposal does not include sending UN peacekeepers to Iraq.

"It goes back to a comment by the French foreign minister in the Security Council [on 5 February], which called for an increase in the numbers of inspectors in Iraq. We support this measure because it's crucial that the inspectors can really investigate fully whether [Iraqi President] Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. And if yes, that these are destroyed under the supervision of the UN. We are in close agreement with France on this. We hope that the initiative will be taken up positively in the Security Council on 14 February after [UN chief weapons inspector Hans] Blix has given his report," Struck said.

Meanwhile, Blix said today after leaving Baghdad that the key to determining whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction is Iraqi cooperation, not the number of weapons inspectors.

Blix said Iraq promised to drill into the ground to prove it had destroyed banned weapons, and also had suggested new methods of investigation for his weapon inspectors.