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Iraq: NATO To Meet Again To End Rift Over Turkey

Prague, 11 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- NATO ambassadors are due to meet again today in hopes of ending a rift over plans to bolster defenses in Turkey, the only alliance member bordering Iraq. France, Belgium, and Germany yesterday blocked a plan to send Turkey AWACS planes, Patriot missiles, and antichemical- and antibiological-warfare teams. They argued it would be a premature signal war has begun and diplomatic efforts have ended.

U.S. President George W. Bush said he was disappointed with France's role in the decision. "I don't understand that decision. It affects the alliance in a negative way," he said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld denounced the move as "a disgrace." Asked at a press conference if it would delay a possible attack against Iraq, Rumsfeld said "no." He said planning is ongoing outside NATO.

Also yesterday, Russia, Germany, and France issued a joint statement, demanding more weapons inspectors and more technical assistance for them. The statement was released in Paris following talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Jacques Chirac.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi ambassador to the UN, Muhammad al-Duri, announced yesterday that Iraq will allow U-2 surveillance planes to overflight its territory as demanded by the weapons inspectors. Bush dismissed the move as a stalling tactic by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Bush also leveled a new charge against Saddam, accusing him of planning to use civilians as human shields in a war and blame resulting civilian casualties on U.S.-led forces.

And finally, chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix said he saw little new in documents Baghdad gave him over the weekend. He said Iraq had suggested new methods of investigation, including drilling into the ground, to prove it had no weapons of mass destruction. Blix also rejected European suggestions that more inspectors would help him.