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U.N. PUSHES IRAQ TO DESTROY SCUD-RELATED HARDWARE

U.N. officials tested Iraqi pledges of cooperation on Friday, outlining proposals to destroy equipment used in Saddam Hussein's Scud missile program.

Iraq has opposed eliminating the missile manufacturing and maintenance hardware, arguing it could be converted to civilian use or employed to make weapons not banned under the terms of the Persian Gulf war cease-fire.The meetings between U.N. inspection team leaders and Iraqi negotiators, including Gen. Amer Rasheed al-Ubeidi, did not immediately end the impasse. Talks are expected to continue Saturday.

On Thursday, Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, promised cooperation with U.N. inspectors overseeing the destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. But he also repeated Baghdad's opposition to dismantling all the missile-related equipment.

The Security Council rejected Iraq's appeal to ease crippling economic sanctions and demanded Baghdad obey all cease-fire conditions.

Tim Trevan, spokesman for U.N. arms inspectors, said the talks focused on plans to destroy the machinery used to make or repair ballistic missiles.

A U.N. spokeswoman said late Friday that talks would resume in Vienna next week between the U.N. and Iraq on the possible sale of a limited quantity of Iraqi oil.

Sale of Iraq's oil, its main economic resource, has been barred under the U.N. sanctions.

Talks on a possible limited resumption were held in Vienna in January and were to have resumed in February but were called off at the last minute by Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the aircraft carrier USS America entered the Persian Gulf on Thursday as part of the "normal post-war deployment" of U.S. forces in the region, a senior Defense Department official said Friday in Washington.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, denied that the movement of the vessel was intended as a threatening gesture towards any nation in the region, including Iraq.

"We've kept a carrier in the region since the war. The America went into the Gulf as part of the normal post-war deployment of our forces," the official said.