- The Washington Times - Friday, October 25, 2002

BAGHDAD Iraq's foreign minister accused the United States yesterday of urging key Iraqi diplomats involved in negotiating the return of arms inspectors to defect.

"In blatant operations American Embassy and intelligence officials were contacting members of the Iraqi delegation in an attempt to lure them into betraying their country," Foreign Minister Naji Sabri told the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera.

Mr. Sabri's remarks came as Iraq ordered all non-Iraqi journalists to leave the country. The action followed a series of reports of unauthorized anti-government demonstrations by relatives of political prisoners who had disappeared and were feared dead.

Iraq also ordered all foreign-based diplomats to send their children back to Iraq, U.S. intelligence officials told The Washington Times on Wednesday.

The officials said the move marked an attempt by Iraq to discourage its diplomats from defecting.

Yesterday's comments by Mr. Sabri appeared to confirm those fears.

Mr. Sabri said he was referring to the delegations at the United Nations, where diplomats are negotiating a new resolution to send weapons inspectors back, and in Vienna, Austria, where U.N. nuclear weapons inspectors have their headquarters.

Western intelligence officials and Iraqi dissidents told the Associated Press in Cairo that British and American officials have approached Iraqi diplomats at international gatherings to talk about defecting to the Iraqi opposition. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Since Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, dozens of Iraqi diplomats have defected to Arab or Western countries, and several have joined opposition groups.

The defections, some by former government ministers and senior figures in the ruling Ba'ath party, have been an embarrassment to Saddam's government.

Mr. Sabri also attacked a proposed U.S. resolution at the United Nations that would authorize military force if Iraq refuses to allow unfettered arms inspections.

The U.S. draft would destroy the prestige of the United Nations by trying to create a pretext for a U.S. attack on Iraq through the resolution, he said.

"This is a draft law to take control of and declare war on the United Nations," he told Al-Jazeera.

The U.S. proposal, drafted with British support, would give U.N. inspectors broad new powers to search and destroy material related to weapons of mass destruction and it warns Iraq of "serious consequences" if it obstructs their work.

The Bush administration asserts that inspections will be useless without the threat of force. Saddam expelled U.N. weapons inspectors from the country in 1998, just before the United States and Britain carried out bombing raids to punish Iraq for blocking the inspectors..

Russia and France oppose the new U.S. resolution.

The inspectors had the job of certifying that Iraq was free of weapons of mass destruction under Security Council resolutions adopted after the Iraqi army invaded neighboring Kuwait in 1990.

Meanwhile, CNN reported yesterday that the Iraqi government plans to expel all foreign journalists from the country next week.

The move followed complaints from the Iraqi government about reports of anti-government demonstrations, CNN reported on its Internet site.

Iraqi officials told CNN that after the foreign journalists' dismissal they will admit a small number back at some point under tough new rules.

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