Fri, Dec 27, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Russia dismisses US' Iraq claims

WHERE'S THE PROOF?The US `hasn't the slightest evidence' that Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction, the Russian deputy foreign minister said

AFP , MOSCOW

Russia on Wednesday widened a rift on the UN Security Council over Iraq when it openly disputed Washington's claim of having proof that Baghdad is hiding weapons of mass destruction from UN inspectors and is in "material breach" of UN resolutions.

"No one can provide the slightest evidence" that Iraq represented a terrorist threat, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Yury Fedotov was quoted by ITAR-TASS news agency as saying.

The US and its closest ally, Britain, claim proof exists Iraqi attempts to foil weapons inspections, a claim Baghdad vehemently denies.

Russia, the US and Britain, along with France and China, are the five permanent Security Council members, each with veto power over actions and resolutions by the 15-member council.

Washington has threatened unilateral military action against Iraq if Baghdad should prove to be in material breach of UN Security Council Resolution 1441 mandating its complete renunciation of weapons of mass destruction.

Washington and London have already said such a material breach exists, based on a 12,000-page accounting of Iraq's arsenals, mandated and received by the Security Council.

Meanwhile Syria, the only Arab member of the council, dismissed as "ridiculous" and "unfounded" accusations by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Iraq had transferred weapons of mass destruction to Syrian soil.

Sharon said UN inspectors in Iraq were less likely to find anything than they might have previously because the weapons were being hidden in Syria.

"There is information we are verifying," Sharon said. "But we are certain that Iraq has recently moved chemical or biological weapons into Syria."

"Saddam Hussein wanted to hide his weapons, and I think that the Americans know that," he said. Sharon strongly backs US threats to topple the Iraqi leader's regime over its alleged weapons off mass destruction programs.

"Sharon's allegations are unfounded and aim to divert attention from the chemical, nuclear and biological arsenal that Israel possesses," a foreign ministry spokesman said in Damascus.

"The accusations are ridiculous, especially since Syria has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and called along with the other Arab countries for the Middle East to be freed from all weapons of mass destruction," he was quoted by the official news agency SANA as saying.

"The only party that has opposed this call and continues to do so is Israel," he said.

Israel agreed with the US in 1969 not to declare its nuclear weapons programs nor to test the weapons.

In return, Washington pledged not to pressure Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Experts say Israel possesses at least 200 nuclear warheads and the means to use them in an attack.

In Iraq on Christmas Day it was business as usual for UN inspectors, with five teams from the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), scouring Iraqi territory.

In Baghdad, President Saddam Hussein told his people in a broadcast he was confident Iraq would be cleared by the inspectors.

The outcome of the UN operations "will be a big shock to the US and will expose all American lies, if things remain on a technical and professional course with no hidden agendas.

Saddam repeated the allegation that Washington was really after Iraq's oil.

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