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Iraq Continues to Stall U.N. Inspections

For the second time in a week, the government fails to confirm accord on ground rules.

October 13, 2002|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS -- Iraq continued sending mixed messages Saturday about its willingness to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspections, suggesting that the problems that hampered previous inspections are bedeviling a new mission before it even begins.

In Baghdad, Iraq's inspections chief, Gen. Hussan Mohammed Amin, said the country reserves the right to end its cooperation with U.N. inspections if it regards them as tools of U.S. espionage or manipulation.

"We gave commitments to cooperate if they said they will follow scientific and logical measures for inspections and will not misuse them for spying, collecting information," Amin told Associated Press. He spoke during a press tour of the Al Furat industrial site, which Iraq concedes was once part of a nuclear program but says is used now for repairing electronic military equipment. Washington has pointed out recent construction at the site on satellite photos, raising questions about whether the nuclear program is still alive.

"If they will follow scientific measures and they will take measures from the United Nations and not the United States, they should come," Amin said of the inspectors.

But for the second time in a week, Iraq failed to certify agreements reached this month in Vienna on the inspections' ground rules, causing U.S. officials to say that such backtracking showed that Baghdad's invitation for new inspections was simply a stalling tactic.

An Oct. 8 letter from U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix and Mohammed Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency, detailing the terms of upcoming inspections, asked Iraq to confirm its acceptance of the verbal agreements made in Vienna -- as the Security Council had requested. But an Oct. 10 response from the Iraqi presidential advisor who attended the Vienna meetings avoided affirming the contents of that letter and raised new issues.

After U.S. officials denounced the reply as an "attempt to delay and deceive," the advisor, Gen. Amir Saadi, sent a clarification Saturday. The new missive said his initial letter should not be seen as "an objection" to terms "but rather as an explanation of our understanding as to what was agreed upon in Vienna," according to an unofficial translation obtained by The Times.

"We are prepared to find a solution to all the issues that might obstruct our joint cooperation in a professional, constructive and positive manner," Saadi wrote. But he still failed to confirm the detailed agreement described in Blix and Baradei's Oct. 8 letter.

The Saturday letter also avoided discussion of access to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's compounds and raised reservations about the "no-fly" zones that U.S. and British warplanes are patrolling over the country and about interviews with Iraqi citizens.

U.N. inspectors had asked to talk to Iraqi scientists and others with information about the country's weapons programs without a roomful of government minders, to reduce any potential intimidation. A U.S. proposal for a new resolution goes further, asking that interviewees be taken out of the country, along with their families, to ensure frank discussions.

But in Vienna, diplomats at the talks said, Iraqi officials raised concerns about the rights and safety of their citizens and said most people would be afraid to be interviewed alone without Iraqi witnesses to back up what was said.

"They still haven't said yes," said Richard A. Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John D. Negroponte. "There should be a very simple answer: 'Yes, we will allow unfettered, unconditional inspections.' This latest letter only underscores the need for international pressure from the Security Council--one voice--to get Iraq to comply with all resolutions and disarm completely."

Other diplomats said that the more Iraq stalls, the more it plays into Washington's hands. The U.S. is prepared to intervene militarily to force Iraq to disarm if it does not comply with weapons inspections.

The majority of the 15-member Security Council prefers to forestall the use of force. This week will be devoted to wrangling over the wording of a new resolution defining the mandate of the inspectors and specifying exactly how to determine whether their mission has failed and whether force should be used.

The U.S. has proposed a single resolution saying that Iraq will face "consequences" if it fails to disarm or blocks inspectors' efforts.

Though negotiations are still very fluid, a possible compromise, U.N. diplomats said, might be to approve "consequences" without spelling out the use of military force.

The U.S. says past resolutions finding Iraq in "material breach" provide a legal basis for military action.

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