PERSIAN GULF Iraq's actions please Annan
The United States lacks the nine 'yes' votes needed to win approval of a war resolution.
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today that Iraq's destruction of missiles is a "positive development."
Annan welcomed Iraq's acceptance of the U.N. chief inspector's order to destroy its Al Samoud 2 missiles.
But asked whether Baghdad's destruction of 19 missiles so far could avoid war, he said it's up to the U.N. Security Council to make a decision.
"I think the council's decision will be based on the totality of the presentation by the inspectors," Annan told reporters. "The council has the right to declare a further military breach at any time based on the reports of the inspectors."
Report to come
Top inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei are scheduled to report to the Security Council on Friday. "Let's see where it goes from there," Annan said.
He noted that Blix had indicated that Iraq's destruction of the Al Samouds was a positive development.
Blix "has indicated there is much more to be done, but this is a positive development and he will be reporting to the council Friday, and I expect he will have more to say," Annan said.
"The inspectors have to report the facts, and as I've indicated this is a positive development," he said.
Annan also was asked whether the council was ready for the vote that the United States wants next week on its resolution to authorize a war against Iraq.
"The council is a master of its own deliberations. and the council will have to decide whether they are ready for a vote or they want to postpone it to a future date," he said.
U.S. lacks votes
The United States still doesn't have the nine "yes" votes needed to win approval of the resolution, according to supporters and opponents, and many undecided council members are looking for a compromise.
Annan was asked about possible compromises, including a proposal by Canada that that Iraq be given until the end of March to complete a list of key remaining disarmament tasks identified by the inspectors.
"I think that is part of the democratic process in the council. We are trying to resolve a very difficult issue, and various members have put forth proposals to try and resolve the differences in the hope that one can bring the council together," he said.
Iran also called today for immediate U.N.-monitored free elections to reconcile Iraq's divided opposition and to reconcile with Saddam.
"I read the press report and I think obviously that elections is something that is in the future of any reform process. But I'm not sure that we are there yet," Annan said of the Iranian proposal.
Pushing for vote
Meanwhile, the United States plans to push for a vote next week on its resolution authorizing war in Iraq even as some Security Council members are seeking a compromise that could delay any military action.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said Monday that the United States expects a vote "quite soon" after Blix and ElBaradei report Friday on Iraqi compliance.
"Our view is that we don't need to debate this very simple and straightforward resolution," Negroponte said.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, "All indications are that the vote would be next week." As one of the sponsors of the resolution, along with Britain and Spain, the United States can call for a vote at any time.
Most council diplomats predicted a vote March 13, six months after President Bush went to the United Nations seeking international support for the disarmament of Iraq.
The president's call to action Sept. 12 was quickly followed by an Iraqi decision to let weapons inspectors return after nearly four years. It also spurred the council to adopt unanimously a U.S.-drafted resolution in November that called on Iraq to disarm and cooperate with inspectors.
The United States, Britain and Spain believe Iraq failed the tests laid out in that resolution. Their new proposed resolution would give them Security Council authorization to disarm Iraq through force.
But the majority of the council is wary of the U.S.-driven position, and two separate groups are searching for alternatives to war.
France, backed by Russia, Germany and China, has suggested beefing up the inspections regime and extending its work at least through July 1.
"War can and should be avoided," China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said.
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