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Iraq Accepts U.N. Terms for Inspections

Baghdad says it will unconditionally receive monitors to prove it has no forbidden weapons. Its action does not preclude a war.

November 14, 2002|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — Two days before the deadline to respond, Iraq accepted a tough new U.N. resolution Wednesday that will return weapons inspectors to the country after a nearly four-year absence.

Iraq's U.N. ambassador said his country hadn't placed any conditions on the resolution's terms but that Baghdad considers parts of the document "unfair" and "illegal."

In a rambling, sometimes bombastic nine-page acceptance letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri called the Security Council a "gang of evil" and accused the U.S. of "the most wicked slander against Iraq." But it also said Baghdad would receive U.N. inspectors in order to prove that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction and to spare its people from war.

But Wednesday's acceptance by no means precludes a war. A more significant deadline comes Dec. 8, when Iraq must declare any materiel that can be used for chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

Because Iraqi officials reiterated Wednesday that Iraq is "clean" of weapons of mass destruction, if they later declare that they have weapons after all, President Saddam Hussein will be shown to have been lying. And if the Iraqis declare again that they don't have weapons, they will be suspected of lying.

After delivering the letter to Annan's office Wednesday, Iraqi Ambassador to the U.N. Mohammed Douri said: "The letter says that Iraq will deal with Security Council Resolution 1441, despite its bad contents. There are no conditions, no reservations."

In Washington, U.S. officials said that despite its frothy language, the bottom line of the letter was "yes," the answer they were waiting to hear. President Bush said he wouldn't tolerate "deception or denial or deceit" from Hussein, and he once again warned that if Iraq "chooses not to disarm, we will have a coalition of the willing with us" to rid Iraq of any forbidden weapons.

Bush met Wednesday afternoon with Annan, who advised him to be patient and to give the process time to play out. At the same time, the United Nations chief praised Bush both for taking the issue to the world body and for using military threats to compel Iraq to comply.

"The pressure has already yielded some results," Annan said, "and that has to be maintained."

The secretary-general pointed out that U.N. resolutions are automatically binding, so Iraq has no option on complying with the measure. But 1441, passed unanimously Friday to force Iraq to disarm or face "severe consequences," included the one-week deadline on responding to the resolution as an early benchmark to measure Baghdad's cooperation.

"I'm not sure they have any other choice. To reject it would imply a decision that they want war right away," Annan said. "I don't think [Hussein] is that suicidal."

After Iraq makes its materiel declaration, it will be up to the weapons inspectors to determine the next steps.

Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix has considered the possibility that Baghdad will declare that it has no weapons. "The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence," Blix said in a recent interview with The Times. "But it is also not the evidence of presence. We are asked to verify on the ground what we see with our own eyes."

An advance team of weapons inspectors from the U.N. and the International Atomic Energy Agency will arrive in Iraq on Monday to begin logistical preparations. Full-fledged inspections using high-tech equipment, such as planes using ground-penetrating radar and radiation detection, will begin on or before Dec. 23.

If the inspectors discover something showing that Iraq has continued to pursue forbidden weapons programs, or if they are significantly hampered in their work, they can report to the Security Council, which will then debate the consequences. The U.S. has consented to consulting with the council but insists it will not have to wait for another resolution to use military force.

If Iraq continues to cooperate, the inspectors will make their first report to the council Feb. 21 and every 60 days thereafter -- indefinitely.

But Washington doesn't expect it to take that long. "We're not going to wait until February to see whether Iraq is cooperating or not," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said this week on CNN's "Late Edition."

Iraq has a history of saying, "yes, but" to the United Nations. Two months ago, when Baghdad invited inspectors back four days after Bush warned in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly that Iraq was a "threat to peace," it later claimed that Hussein's eight presidential compounds should be exempt.

Wednesday's missive agrees to cooperate with inspectors, although it harshly criticizes the resolution and the Security Council, and promises a follow-up letter enumerating the parts of the resolution that Iraq believes are contrary to international law.

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