UPI hears ...

March 12, 2003 at 4:19 AM
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Insider notes from United Press International for March 11 ...

Reports from Paris say that President Jacques Chirac, fearing that intense U.S. diplomatic pressure is having its impact on the wavering votes in the Security Council, is privately urging Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to make a grand gesture. Chirac is proposing that the Iraqi leader convene a big news conference in Baghdad -- including the CNN, BBC, and al-Jazeera TV cameras -- and announce the dismantling of a headline-catching weapons system as a concession to the U.N. inspectors. The only problem seems to be Iraq's previous statements that it has no remaining weapons systems to hand over -- despite the small print of the 173-page UNMOVIC inspectors' report that Hans Blix failed to specify in his U.N. address Friday.

One small section from the report is worth repeating, if only to emphasize the misleading tone of Hans Blix's optimistic report to the United Nations: "UNMOVIC has credible information that the total quantity of BW (biological weapons) agent in bombs, warheads and in bulk at the time of the Gulf War was 7,000 liters more than declared by Iraq. This additional agent was most likely all anthrax. ... Iraq's claim that anthrax production ceased at the end of 1990 does not seem plausible. ... seems highly probable that the destruction of bulk agent, including anthrax (at the Al Hakam site) did not occur. Based on all the available evidence, the strong presumption is that about 10,000 liters of anthrax was not destroyed and may still exist."

Intelligence reports of Iraqi troops placing explosives in the oil fields around Kirkup, apparently preparing the well-heads for demolition, come with the disturbing footnote that local sources claim the troops are not Iraqi soldiers, but Iranians from the Mujaheddin-al-Khalq (MKO). Fierce opponents of the ayatollahs, the MKO have long been given protection, including bases, arms and training grounds, by the Iraqi regime. MKO defectors in Tehran last month told reporters from Britain's Sunday Times that Iraq had hidden large underground laboratories beneath a swimming pool at Ashraf, the MKO's main military base 43 miles north of Baghdad. U.N. inspectors have been barred from Ashraf, because Baghdad says the MKO bases are the sovereign territory of the Iranian government in exile, claiming it has no jurisdiction over them.

With unemployment up to 4.7 million and his economy stagnant, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has to give the speech of his life Friday to announce his new economic reform plans that threaten a collision course with the powerful labor unions. So why is he taking time off Wednesday evening to fly to London for a private dinner with Tony Blair, apparently intent on talking about Iraq, when the two men differ so strongly over Iraq and the second U.N. resolution? This is not one of those diplomatic engagements that have to be kept, like one of their regular daylong summits. British sources say the two men, horrified at the prospect of a lasting breach between the United States and its European allies, want to come up with a post-Iraq plan to get the Atlantic alliance back on track. The British think that the European Union should take over the humanitarian mission in Iraq and declare itself willing to join in the post-war reconstruction effort. Schroeder is expected to agree.

If might not be up there with the $25 million that Washington is offering for Osama bin Laden, but Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense is planning to offer a $2,913,155 reward to anyone who can help investigators break a kickback scandal involving six Lafayette frigates purchased from France in 1991. Minister of National Defense Tang Yao-ming cautioned, "The reward will be given only on condition that the information is truly helpful in cracking the case. The reward will be funded from a Cabinet's second supplementary fund. The kickbacks were allegedly paid to KMT politicians involved in the $2.8 billion deal. Tang's announcement caught National Defense Committee members by surprise. Fugitive arms dealer Andrew Wang tops the list of suspects, who is wanted in connection with the murder of a navy captain who was in the military's arms procurement office at the time of the purchase.

Saudi authorities have banned and confiscated T-shirts carrying the pictures of Osama bin Laden and New York's World Trade Center aflame during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Saudi daily al-Jazira said the Interior Ministry ordered the removal of all the Thai-made T-shirts from the market and asked municipalities and local councils in the various provinces to intensify inspections of shops. Bin Laden was stripped of his Saudi nationality in 1994. Fifteen out of the 19 suicide attackers believed to have carried out the Sept. 11 attacks were Saudi nationals.

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