Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Tuesday, February 18, 2003

U-2 Starts First Mission amid Looming War on Iraq

The first U-2 surveillance plane overflew central Iraq on Monday as part of the ongoing UN disarmament mission, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said in a statement.


U-2 surveillance plane started its first flight over Iraq on Monday as part of the ongoing UN disarmament mission amid a looming US-led war on the oil-rich Gulf country.

"At local time 11:55 a.m. (0855 GMT), a U-2 surveillance plane entered Iraqi airspace and surveyed several areas of Iraq, then left the airspace at 4:15 p.m. (1315 GMT)," the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"The surveillance operation went on for four hours and 20 minutes," the statement said.

Such a flight satisfied a long-standing demand by the United Nations following the resumption of UN arms inspections in Iraq last November after a four-year break.

Last Monday, Iraq agreed on UN demands for American U-2, French Mirage and Russian Antonov surveillance flights aimed at reinforcing the hunts for Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq had earlier rejected the U-2 operations, saying it could not guarantee the safety of the flights, because US and British warplanes have been patrolling "no-fly" zones in northern and southern Iraq.

Also on Monday, UN weapons inspectors conducted a private interview with an Iraqi scientist, their spokesman Hero Ueki said in a statement.

According to Ueki, weapons experts from the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the IAEA searched 13 sites, six of which were related to missiles, on Monday.

In Baghdad, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein hailed demonstrations worldwide against the US war threat, the official INA news agency reported.

The pioneering and humane attitudes shown in the demonstrations all over the world deserved appreciation and showed that "our principles were and are right", Saddam was quoted as telling a cabinet meeting.

More than 10 million people all over the world took to the street on Sunday to protest a possible US-led war with Iraq.

Iraq also voiced satisfaction with the results of the just-concluded emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers in the Egyptian capital of Cairo.

"A statement issued by the ministers reaffirmed an Arab rejection of a US war threat against Iraq, which is also considered as a threat to the security of the whole Arab world," Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri told reporters upon his return from Cairo, where the meeting was held on Sunday.

He said the foreign ministers took a clear stance which asserts solidarity with Iraq and welcomes Iraq's cooperation with UN arms inspectors.

Foreign ministers from 20 Arab countries and representatives from Oman and Mauritania attended the meeting, which focused on the Iraqi standoff.

The participants adopted a final statement at the end of the one-day gathering, rejecting the US aggression against Iraq and any Iraqi threat against neighboring Kuwait.

The statement called for preserving Iraq's territorial integrity and security, and rejected any threat to the security of the Arab world.

However, Kuwait expressed reservations about the procedures of the ministerial meeting preceding an upcoming Arab summit.

"We believe a final statement or resolution should not be issued by a ministerial meeting preceding a summit," Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad al-Jaber Al-Sabah was quoted as saying.

The mission of the foreign ministers is only to prepare the summit, he said, expressing regret at discussing an issue that is not part of the meeting's competence.

Asked about whether the reservation was expressed at an item urging Arab states not to provide any facilities for any military action on Iraq, the foreign minister said the reservation was about the statement in general and not about a specific paragraph.

While in Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said Arab states have no objection to holding an emergency Arab summit on the Iraqi crisis on Feb. 28, which can be seen as last-ditch Arab efforts to avert war on Iraq.

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