Fears israeli nuclear
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Thursday September 26 11:26 AM EST
Former UN Arms Chief Fears Israeli Nuclear Response
By Mark Heinrich
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A former U.N. arms chief expressed fears Thursday Israel might be pushed into using its nuclear arsenal in a war with Iraq, but Israel vowed it would take only "proper actions" if it were hit by nonconventional weapons or suffered casualties.
U.S. demands for tough, new U.N. Security Council action against Iraq suffered a serious blow when Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a solution to the crisis using existing U.N. resolutions.
The United States and Britain are pushing for a new U.N. resolution that would include uncompromising language spelling out that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would face serious consequences if he failed to allow weapons inspectors to proceed with their work unhindered.
The Bush administration, laying ground for a possible new conflict with Baghdad, has asked Israel in private talks to exercise the same restraint as during the 1991 Gulf War when it did not retaliate against attacks by 39 Iraqi Scud missiles.
Former chief U.N. arms inspector Richard Butler, addressing a business conference in Hong Kong, said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had indicated Israel would not be restrained if attacked by Iraq.
"My deepest fear in that context, if that occurs and the war escalates, is that Israel will use its nuclear weapons," Butler said. "If that happens, the world would have been changed beyond recognition, and I would fear that if that happens the state of Israel would cease to exist."
Butler's tenure at the U.N. Special Commission was marked by repeated disputes with Iraqi authorities over access to suspected arms sites. His inspectors left in 1998, just before a U.S.-British bombing campaign aimed at punishing Iraq for its perceived stonewalling on inspections.
Some Israeli officials have warned that Israel would not stay on the sidelines if hit again by Iraq. They have suggested Israel's failure to respond in 1991 undercut its deterrent capability with its Middle East adversaries.
"If Iraq attacks Israel, but does not hit population centers or cause casualties, our interest will be to not make it hard on the Americans," Sharon was quoted as saying in Thursday's Jerusalem Post in reference to the interests of Israel's guardian ally.
"If, on the other hand, harm is done to Israel, if we suffer casualties or if nonconventional weapons of mass destruction are used against us, then definitely Israel will take the proper actions to defend its citizens."
Resumption of U.N. inspections for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons for the first time since 1998 would "answer the concerns of the international community," Putin told the new Iraqi ambassador after receiving his credentials at the Kremlin.
"We favor a rapid resolution of the situation around (Iraq) on the basis of existing U.N. Security Council resolutions, and in accordance with the principles and norms of international law," Putin said.
Russia, which has a veto in the Security Council, hopes to recoup billions of dollars in Soviet-era debt and take part in lucrative Iraqi oil projects once decade-old U.N. sanctions on Baghdad are lifted. Moscow has long called for the return of inspectors as an initial step.
A second permanent member of the Security Council, China urged the speedy return of U.N. inspectors to Baghdad and said it was studying Britain's lengthy dossier charging Iraq with developing weapons of mass destruction.
"We are studying the relevant report and we believe that the imperative to solve this question is to readmit U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said.
The British dossier, which said Tuesday that Iraq could launch a chemical or biological warhead within 45 minutes, was publicized to show why it backs possible military action against the Middle Eastern nation.
Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said he was concerned by the harshness of the U.S rhetoric, and Egyptian President Hosni Muburak said he had told Iraq to work to head off a U.S. attack by dealing seriously with weapons inspectors and not making provocative statements.
A senior army official in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation, weighed in by saying the United States had no business in Iraq.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter also spoke out against unilateral action, saying it would be a tragic mistake both for the United States and peace in the Middle East if Washington attacked without U.N. support.
In the latest attack by Western jets enforcing no-fly zones over Iraq, Baghdad said Thursday U.S. warplanes had raided Basra civilian airport, 300 miles southeast of the capital, and damaged its radar system.