UK denies allied rift over Iraq

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The Independent Online
BRITISH DIPLOMATS, aware that they must wait several days for an announcement by President Bush of allied measures against Iraq, yesterday had to resort to transcripts of comments by White House officials to show there was no disagreement on the issue.

US sources said President Bush planned to make an announcement at the weekend about the allied plan for a no-fly zone in Iraq, and a British official told the Independent: 'They are not backing down, of course. They are just anxious it shouldn't be confirmed or announced out of Houston.'

Mr Bush was damaged by reports last weekend that he had deliberately planned to boost his standing by provoking a showdown with Saddam Hussein, over nuclear-inspection rights, to coincide with the Houston Republican convention. He therefore decided to delay his announcement of the no-fly zone until this weekend, and aides were instructed to say that details of the plan remained to be worked out.

Hence John Major, having interrupted his holiday for an emergency Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, was allowed to take the lead in announcing the move. On the same day, the French Foreign Minister, Roland Dumas, chimed in by saying the allies 'envisage' imposing a no-fly zone over southern Iraq. Yesterday the French Defence Minister, Pierre Joxe, followed up the British announcement about Tornado planes with a statement that France was prepared to send at least 10 warplanes to help set up an exclusion zone. Sources said the French were likely to deploy Mirage 2000 planes, the same as those used during the Gulf war.

In anticipation of the Bush announcement, British officials distributed transcripts of a television interview given on Wednesday by Brent Scowcroft, the National Security Adviser. Asked whether the no-fly zone agreement had been 'solidified', Mr Scowcroft said: 'It's been solidified.' He said details to be worked out were 'who would do what, when, a number of things like the rules and regulations'. He added: 'What we're saying, as Prime Minister Major indicated, that Saddam - there's increasing evidence that he is pursuing genocidal policies in the south. And that is clearly forbidden by 688.'

LONDON - Iraq would 'resist with all means' any plan to impose a no-fly zone in the south of the country, Reuter reports.

A statement was issued after a meeting of the Revolution Command Council and the regional leadership of the Baath party, presided over by President Saddam. The statement, monitored by the BBC, aid Iraq 'would not allow the Zionist-imperialist design to pass'.