Hans Blix, the lead U.N. inspector welcomed the decision, calling it “a very significant piece — a real disarmament.”
“They say they accepted in principle, and it is to start tomorrow, so maybe tomorrow evening or Sunday we will have more to say,” Blix told reporters in New York.
Iraq had opposed the move, saying there had been flaws in the test that found the missile exceeded the 150-kilometer limit on rockets. Officials in Baghdad said the missiles overshot the limit because they were fired without warheads or guidance systems, making them substantially lighter.
The letter from Saddam Hussein’s scientific adviser, Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi, agreed “in principle” with the decision to completely eliminate the 100 to 120 missiles, but said the U.N.’s order was unfair.
“The decision to destroy [the missiles] was unjust and did not take into consideration the scientific facts regarding the issue,” he wrote. “The timing of this request seems to us to be one with political aims.”
The move, on the eve of Blix’s next assessment of Iraqi compliance, received mixed reviews from European leaders.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Friday he was not surprised by the last-second agreement, but that he doubted its sincerity.
“The moment I heard … that Saddam Hussein was saying he would not destroy the missiles was the moment that I knew later in the week that he would announce — just before Dr. Blix reported — that he would indeed destroy these missiles,” Blair said.
“This is not a time for games,” he added.
French officials, who have argued that military action should be put off as inspections continue, said the development indicated U.N. efforts were achieving results.
“France has noted Iraq’s decision to destroy the missiles,” French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said at a news conference. “It is an important step in the process of the peaceful disarmament of Iraq. It confirms that inspectors are getting results.”
The latest maneuvering comes hours before Blix was to convey his three-month assessment of the efforts to disarm Iraq. The Swedish inspector delivered his report to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Wednesday and was reportedly set to give it to the 15 members of the Security Council during the day Friday.
In a draft of the report obtained by the Associated Press, Blix said there had been “very limited” progress in inspections because Iraqi authorities had not provided critical evidence about its chemical, biological and missile programs.
“Iraq could have made greater efforts to find any remaining proscribed items or provide credible evidence showing the absence of such items,” he wrote. “The results in terms of disarmament have been very limited so far.”
Despite the terse 17-page report, Blix on Friday said the level of Iraqi cooperation appeared to be fluctuating day-to-day.
“Today they have been digging quite a lot in the ground, they have dug up bombs, fragments of bombs,” he said. “It is a little too early to say what the result is, but there is a great deal of activity.”
As U.N. technicians headed to Iraq to discuss the missiles’ destruction, Britain, the U.S. and Spain continued to push for a second resolution confirming Iraq’s continued defiance of U.N. resolutions that could pave the way for military action against Iraq.