Munich, Germany (Reuters) – Germany and France are working on a new plan to try to avert war in Iraq that would compel Baghdad to admit thousands of U.N. troops to enforce disarmament and tighter sanctions, a magazine said on Saturday.
A German government spokesman confirmed Berlin and Paris were working together to find a peaceful alternative to war with Iraq, but would not provide any details of the efforts.
Germany’s leading news magazine Der Spiegel said the idea had originated in the office of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Berlin and Paris had been working on the details of the initiative in secret talks since the beginning of the year.
Asked about the joint proposals at a major security summit in the southern German city of Munich, German Defense Minister Peter Struck declined to comment, noting only that Schroeder planned to address the German parliament on Iraq on Thursday.
A French Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to comment on the report in Der Spiegel, but French diplomatic sources said: “We are discussing with Security Council members what additional measures could be introduced to bolster U.N. inspections.”
French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told the Munich conference Paris believed inspections had proved more effective than the Gulf War of 1991 in disarming Iraq, but did not rule out military action as a last resort to make Baghdad cooperate.
“That’s why France has proposed reinforcing the means given to inspectors, to reinforce the number of inspectors,” she said.
In an advance copy ahead of publication on Sunday, Der Spiegel said Berlin and Paris wanted to publish their proposal in the next few days before weapons inspectors in Iraq report back to the U.N. Security Council on Friday.
Schroeder, who has angered Washington with his opposition to any war with Iraq, would discuss the idea at the weekend with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Der Spiegel said. France would probably take over driving the initiative forward and use it as a basis for a new Security Council resolution proposal.
Initial reactions from Russia, China and European Union president Greece were positive, the magazine said, while Pope John Paul offered German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer support for the initiative at talks in the Vatican on Friday.
Germany and France had not consulted Washington or its European allies in London, Madrid and Rome, the magazine said.
In what the magazine said was a foretaste of the plan, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin proposed intensifying weapons inspections and offered French reconnaissance planes to support them this week after Secretary of State Colin Powell presented new evidence of Baghdad’s alleged weapons programs.
Der Spiegel said the initiative, which it said had been dubbed “Project Mirage,” included the following proposals:
— the some 150,000 U.S. troops already deployed to the Gulf should stay in place to force Baghdad to cooperate and be ready to invade if it breaches the new proposed U.N. resolution
— Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would be forced to admit thousands of armed U.N. troops to oversee intensified weapons inspections in the whole country as well as full disarmament, creating a de facto “U.N. protectorate”
— the number of weapons inspectors should be tripled from the current 100 operating in Iraq
— the no-fly zone over northern and southern Iraq should be extended to cover the whole country and French, German and U.S. reconnaissance planes should be allowed to patrol the skies
— a permanent U.N. coordinator of arms inspections in Iraq could be appointed
— sanctions should be made more focused to clamp down on oil smuggling by Iraq’s neighbors and tighten export controls
— a special U.N. court should be established to oversee infringements of the new resolution and human rights abuses
The magazine said the initiative could help Schroeder out of the corner he seemed to have backed himself into over Iraq, risking international isolation if he sticks to his anti-war stance but political suicide at home if he changes course.
He could sell the proposal as a last-ditch bid to avert war, allowing him to swing behind any military action if Baghdad failed to go along with the plan, it said.
Germany and France pledged last month to cooperate closely over Iraq in the U.N. Security Council, which is due to hear a new report from arms inspectors on February 14. France is one of the Council’s five veto-holding permanent members.
President Bush has said the United Nations must soon decide whether to back his demand that Iraq abandon its alleged chemical, biological and nuclear programs or be disarmed by force. Iraq denies having any such weapons.