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Iraq: Talks Begin On Scrapping Banned Missiles

Baghdad, 1 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A UN weapons inspector met with an Iraqi general today to work out how Iraq will destroy banned Al-Sumud missiles and related components. UN spokesman Hiro Ueki described the discussion as "good" and said the missile destruction would begin today.

Also today, weapons inspectors said Iraq allowed them to conduct a private interview with an Iraqi scientist for the first time in three weeks. The missile destruction and private interviews have been key demands of the UN weapons inspectors.

Today is the deadline that chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix set for Iraq to start destroying the Al-Sumud missiles. UN experts say the range of the missiles exceeds the 150-kilometer limit set in UN resolutions. Iraq is believed to have more than 100 of the missiles.

Blix called Iraq's decision to comply "a very significant piece of real disarmament." Governments opposed to war praised Iraq's decision to start destroying the missiles and governments opposed to war called the action a ploy.

In related news, Arab leaders today opened their summit in Egypt to discuss a unified response to the Iraq crisis and the possibility of a U.S.-led military action. A high-level Iraqi delegation is attending the meeting of the 22-member Arab League in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.

The meeting is expected to discuss a joint declaration that would express opposition to a war in Iraq that did not have United Nations backing. The Arab leaders are also expected to call on Iraq to fully cooperate with UN weapons inspections.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said the meeting would not back a call by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell for Arab leaders to urge Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to leave power to allow a new leadership to take over in Baghdad.

Also, the leader of Turkey's governing party met with members of parliament today before a debate on U.S. troop deployment. Justice and Development Party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying to persuade legislators to allow 62,000 U.S. soldiers into their country in preparation of war with Iraq.

Also a few hours before the parliamentary debate, hundreds of Turks holding "No War" banners began gathering for a rally to protest against possible military action in Iraq.

Top military and political leaders in Turkey's National Security Council discussed the issue yesterday, but made no new public recommendation on how parliament should vote.

Turkey has come under strong pressure from the United States to quickly allow the deployment, as there are thousands of soldiers and tons of materiel ready at the southern Turkish port of Iskenderun.