UNITED NATIONS -- The chief United Nations weapons inspector demanded yesterday that Iraq start destroying within a week its al-Samoud 2 missiles and any illegally imported engines designed for use in the rockets, which U.N. experts say exceed the allowed range of 92 miles.
The demand from Hans Blix, with its March 1 deadline, appeared to set the stage for a diplomatic showdown over the next two weeks that could determine whether Iraq faces war.
The United States and Britain continued yesterday to press for a brief resolution -- to be presented next week -- declaring Iraq in breach of its disarmament obligations.
If Iraq doesn't comply with Blix's demand to destroy the short-range al-Samoud missiles, which it developed after the Persian Gulf war and which U.S. intelligence officials say have been widely deployed, it could be seen as lending credence to the U.S. argument that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein never intends to disarm.
In outlining his demands in a letter to Hussein's top weapons expert, Dr. Amir al-Saadi, Blix noted the findings of a panel of experts that met this month to determine whether Iraq had violated U.N. limits on the range of its missiles.
U.S. diplomats made no public comment on the letter, but one said, "We are very pleased," adding that it seemed unlikely that Iraq would destroy a system it had spent heavily to build.
The Bush administration also reported significant progress on another diplomatic front yesterday. Officials said an agreement was reached with Turkey on a $15 billion U.S. aid package that is expected to prompt Ankara to approve the use of Turkey as a base for U.S. troops in case of a war with Iraq.
Blix's letter, which diplomats said was presented to the Iraqi envoy, Mohammed Aldouri, during an hourlong meeting late yesterday afternoon, followed a day of meetings in which U.S. and British diplomats tried to build support for their proposed Security Council resolution.
France, Russia and China, permanent members of the Security Council, have not endorsed the idea of a second resolution and have urged giving Blix's inspectors more time to disarm Iraq peacefully.
U.S. and British diplomats have argued that the language in the Nov. 8 resolution that launched the current weapons inspections -- and was passed by a unanimous 15-0 vote -- authorizes the use of force in the case of continued Iraqi failure to comply. Those who oppose that position argue that a variety of tests must be met to determine whether such a failure has occurred.
Most diplomats have turned to Blix's office to specify those tests.
He is preparing a report on the progress of the weapons inspections, due by March 1. He is likely to appear before the Security Council to discuss it March 7, giving Guinea, which takes over the rotating Security Council chairmanship March 1, time to prepare for what is likely to be a crucial debate.
President Bush was planning to discuss the wording of the Security Council resolution and other diplomacy regarding Iraq with Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar of Spain at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Spain is one of four council members committed to a second resolution authorizing force if Iraq continues to rebuff the councils weapons demands.
France has said that if the resolution uses language that seems to authorize force -- such as declaring that serious consequences must come into play -- it will reject the resolution.
Without any new evidence, at least six council members -- Mexico, Chile, Angola, Cameroon, Guinea and Pakistan -- have expressed grave doubts about supporting a resolution that could lead to military action.
But, as one diplomat who favors a second resolution said yesterday, "if new facts emerge on the ground about Iraqi misbehavior or obstruction, that's what it will take to get to 13 votes."
Blix's office is preparing two documents, one covering the progress of inspections for the past three months and the second setting out about 30 remaining unresolved disarmament issues. These unresolved issues will be discussed Monday and Tuesday. They are expected to encompass such things as whether Iraq has revealed its stores of anthrax and other biological weapons and its chemical weapons, and whether Iraq has destroyed its banned missiles and allowed unfettered interviews with its scientists, U.N. officials said.
On Feb. 14, Blix and Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Commission, gave a positive enough account of Iraqi compliance to allow France and its partisans to argue that inspections were beginning to to work and should continue.
In the ensuing week, none of the 11 council members who argued for at least some further inspections budged, leaving the United States potentially on the losing side of a lopsided vote.
Despite the agreement on money between Turkey and the United States, the two are still ironing out a separate point of contention, over the size and role of Turkish troops in northern Iraq, officials said. Turkey plans to send large numbers of troops into Iraq with U.S. forces and carry out relief efforts for refugees.
U.S. officials said they hoped to resolve the financial and military issues by Monday or Tuesday. But some acknowledged that the disagreement on the role of the Turkish military in Iraq could prove to be a long- term irritant, no matter how it is resolved for now.