Iraq 'has backed away' from clash over no-fly zones

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The Independent Online
PUBLIC acknowledgement from the United States administration that Iraq had 'changed its behaviour' towards US aircraft over the northern and southern no-fly zones confirms the easing of tension, but does not change the underlying differences between the two countries.

Iraq still insists that it regards the no-fly zones, separately imposed by the US and some of its coalition partners, as without basis in law and a gross infringement of its sovereignty. The US, Britain and France argue that UN Security Council resolution 688 enjoins Iraq to respect the human rights of its people, including the Shias in the south and the Kurds in the north. Since the Iraqis refuse to allow UN inspectors in on the ground to monitor compliance with 688, the allies determined they would do it from the air. And they imposed the no-fly zone, to protect their aircraft.

A Defense Department spokesman, Bob Hall, acknowledged that Iraq had not turned on the radar used for target acquisition of its missile batteries since 23 January, three days after Mr Clinton's inauguration. The Iraqis insist that local commanders have orders not to turn on their radars, lest this be interpreted as a hostile act.

Mr Clinton had said in an interview with the New York Times that the Iraqis could expect a different relationship with the United States if they 'changed their behaviour'. Mr Hall evoked this sentiment when he said: 'What has changed here is the Iraqi behaviour.'

Saddam Hussein and his entourage are hoping that a more amenable Mr Clinton might ease sanctions around Iraq. However, many Western analysts consider that President Saddam's attempt to woo Mr Clinton is evidence that the sanctions are biting, and so they should be enforced all the more vigorously to force compliance with UN resolutions.

In an indication of a softening of attitudes towards Iraq, a Foreign Ministry source in Ankara said yesterday that Turkey plans to base a diplomat in Baghdad for the first time since the start of the Gulf war in January 1991.

WASHINGTON - Diplomatic sources said yesterday the United States had apparently been forced to call off Middle East peace talks on regional issues scheduled for next week because of the dispute over Palestinians deported by Israel, Reuter reports. Two sessions were due to convene on 9 February, one in Rome on regional economic issues and the second in Washington on arms control. A session on refugees was scheduled the following week in Oslo. A Norwegian official said the Oslo session would be postponed.