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Iraq's 'Acceptance' Cast in Doubt

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Iraq’s ‘acceptance’ cast in doubt

Iraqi state television broadcast the text of the letter to the United Nations two hours after it was read to the world community.

NBC NEWS AND NEWS SERVICES

Nov. 14 — As U.N. weapons inspectors readied for a return to Iraq, Baghdad’s bitterly worded acceptance of Security Council demands that it disarm has cast in doubt President Saddam Hussein’s intentions to submit to an intrusive weapons verification program.

MEANTIME, IN a blow to U.S. efforts to forge an anti-Saddam coalition, exiled Iraqi opposition groups have again postponed a conference planned this month in Belgium to discuss their possible role in toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

In the immediate term, Iraq’s acceptance means that the advance team of U.N. weapons inspectors will arrive in Baghdad on Monday, led by chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix, who is in charge of biological and chemical inspections, and Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is in charge of nuclear inspections.

But the harsh tone of Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri’s nine-page letter, which included warnings about how Baghdad expects inspectors to behave, raised concern about Iraq’s plans to cooperate with the resolution.

Sabri concluded the letter by saying that the United Nations should expect a second letter in which Baghdad shows that the U.N. resolution ran “contrary to international law, U.N. Charter, the facts already established and the measure contained in previous relevant resolutions of the Security Council.”

President Bush, signaling unabated impatience with Saddam Hussein, said Wednesday he will not tolerate deception, denial or deceit as Iraq faces a series of deadlines imposed by the U.N. Security Council.

“The world expects Saddam Hussein to disarm for the sake of peace,” Bush said with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan at his side in the White House Oval Office.

Annan quickly concurred. The U.N. resolution that requires Iraq to disarm or be faced with serious consequences, “must be implemented,” he said.

“Let the inspectors go in,” Annan said. “I urge the Iraqis to cooperate with them and to perform and I think that is the test we are waiting for.”

Deadlines for Saddam

Dec. 8: The deadline to provide a "full and complete declaration" on all aspects of its alleged program to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.

Dec. 23: The deadline for the resumption of U.N. weapons inspections.

Feb. 21: Last possible date by which inspectors must update the U.N. Security Council. Under resolution 1441, the U.N. must be briefed 60 days after the start of inspections.

ILLEGAL CACHES

Administration officials suggested that Iraq may already be flouting the spirit of the resolution, first by declaring Wednesday it has no weapons of mass destruction.

If Saddam continues to make that claim after the Dec. 8 deadline to declare his weapons program, he would be inviting war, U.S. officials said.

The international weapons inspectors are to resume their search for illegal caches by Dec. 23 and are to report to the Security Council 60 days after they start looking.

At any point, failure by Iraq to comply with its obligations, and any false statements or omissions in the list, are to be reported by the inspectors to the Security Council.

In Baghdad, an influential Iraqi newspaper on Thursday warned that despite Baghdad’s acceptance, more trouble with the United States likely lies ahead.

The Babil newspaper, owned by Saddam’s eldest son Odai, also called on France, Russia and China to support Iraq in the dispute.

“After Iraq’s positive stance, the Security Council members — especially Russia, France and China — should be aware that our problem and crisis with the United States is not over yet and may have just started,” Babil said in a front in a front-page editorial.

In the past, the three veto-wielding U.N. Security Council members have differed with the United States on how best to deal with Iraq. If Iraq fails to fully cooperate with inspectors, the other two main powers on the council — the United States and Britain — have made clear they will attack the country.

Babil urged Russia, France and China to differentiate between Iraq, “which adopts a policy of peace, and a country (the United States) that adopts a cowboy policy.”

WARNING TO INSPECTORS

U.N. inspectors who began work in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf war, left the country The Iraqi government had barred them from returning since then.

In Wednesday’s letter, Iraq warned it would “take into consideration” inspectors’ conduct while in Iraq and whether they respect the national dignity of the Iraqi people and their country’s security, independence and sovereignty.

Iraq in the past accused inspectors of acting as spies and clashed with the United Nations on providing them access to sensitive sites such as presidential palaces — areas that again could be troublespots.

Ewen Buchanan, Blix’s spokesman, said the team would be reopening the office used by inspectors before they left in December 1998, installing new computers, getting the old laboratory up and running, arranging secure communications, getting vehicles, and preparing for the arrival of helicopters.

“It’s pointless to send inspectors to Iraq until we have all the necessary tools in place,” he said.

Within a few weeks after inspections resume, the United Nations intends to have 80 to 100 inspectors in Baghdad, plus a backup team of interpreters, medics, logistics and communications experts, laboratory personnel and helicopter crews, Buchanan said.

ANTI-SADDAM MEETING

Meanwhile on the political front, a preparatory committee for the gathering of anti-Saddam groups said it is putting off the conference, scheduled for Nov. 22 in Brussels, Belgium for two weeks, in part because most of the delegates have not yet received Belgian visas.

Six major opposition groups, who refused to work together in the past, have been planning the conference. In addition to discussing their role in any U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, delegates also were expected to choose a committee that might be the basis of an interim government for a post-Saddam Iraq.

Rivalries and internal fighting over power-sharing after a change in the Iraqi regime have delayed the conference, originally scheduled for September.

A major obstacle is a demand by Ahmed Chalabi, a leader of the U.S.-backed Iraqi National Congress, to enlarge the conference by some 300 INC members, trying to bring more of his supporters to a gathering expected to be dominated by more powerful political rivals.

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