- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2002

NEW YORK Iraq yesterday grudgingly accepted the return of U.N. weapons inspectors with a defiant nine-page letter to the United Nations in which it claims to have no weapons of mass destruction.
The letter, to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, also is filled with invective against the United States denounced as the leader of the "gang of evil" and bitterness toward members of the 15-nation Security Council that unanimously voted for the resolution demanding the inspectors' return.
"We hereby inform you that we will deal with resolution 1441, despite its bad contents," said the letter signed by Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri. "If it is to be implemented according to the premeditated evil of the parties of ill-intent, the important thing in this is trying to spare our people from any harm."
An advance team led by chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei, head of the Vienna, Austria-based International Atomic Energy Agency, were to gather in Cyprus over the weekend and arrive in Baghdad on Monday.
The letter was handed to the United Nations yesterday morning, one day after the 250-member Iraqi parliament unanimously recommended rejecting the resolution.
President Bush said he will not tolerate "deception, denial or deceit" from Saddam Hussein. Mr. Bush warned the Iraqi dictator that his acceptance of the resolution does not prevent the United States from taking military action if he does not bow to its terms.
"I have told the United Nations we'll be glad to consult with them, but the resolution does not prevent us from doing what needs to be done, which is to hold Saddam Hussein into account," the president said during a Cabinet meeting.
With Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at his side, Mr. Bush said Saddam's decision to admit inspectors is only the beginning of the process.
"We will not tolerate any deception, denial or deceit, period. There's no negotiations with Mr. Saddam Hussein. Those days are long gone.
"And so are the days of deceit and denial. And now it's up to him," the president said.
Iraq kicked out U.N. inspectors four years ago.
Mr. Bush also met Mr. Annan in the Oval Office yesterday.
"What is important is that the resolution is mandatory, the resolution went into force the moment it was adopted, and the inspectors are going to go there and do their work, and they have to comply," Mr. Annan told reporters as the meeting began.
The letter, translated from the original Arabic by the Iraqis themselves, calls British Prime Minister Tony Blair the "lackey" of the United States and flays council nations as "dumb devils" for offering "camouflage" to what it calls baseless U.S. and British accusations.
It refers to Israel as the "Zionist entity" and "occupier."
The letter also repeats Iraq's claims that it does not have weapons of mass destruction, a term that applies to chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
That claim could provoke a showdown in three weeks, a deadline for Baghdad to disclose any forbidden weapons or face "serious consequences."
"Iraq neither had produced nor was in possession of any weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical or biological, throughout the time of the inspectors' absence from Iraq," the letter says.
U.S. officials could not say whether, if that proved false, they would consider the letter itself a "material breach" of the new resolution and therefore justify a military strike.
But they did indicate they don't expect the weapons disclosure, due Dec. 8, to be as simple as a denial.
"We all know that Iraq is required to present its disclosure, its full disclosure, within 30 days of passage of the resolution," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
"That is a moment where Iraq needs to account for a lot. They need to account for the programs that they still had when the inspectors left in 1998. They need to account for the procurements that they made, and the new developments that we know have been ongoing," Mr. Boucher said.
Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations said the missive makes absolutely no demands, asks no questions or in any way rejects the resolution.
"The letter characterizes our relationship with the United Nations," Ambassador Mohammed Aldouri said.
The letter includes several ominous passages that seem to spoil for a fight.
It asks Mr. Annan "to advise the ignorants not to push things to the precipice, in the implementation, because the people of Iraq will not choose to live at the price of their dignity, country, freedom or sanctities, and they would rather make their lives the price if that was the only way before them to safeguard what they must defend."
Joseph Curl contributed to this report from Washington.

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