- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2002

NEW YORK The Iraqi government, responding to unrelenting U.S.-led international pressure, agreed last night to readmit U.N. weapons inspectors without conditions.
But the White House dismissed the offer as a tactical ploy by Baghdad that should not be used to prevent tough action from the United Nations.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri handed a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan confirming Baghdad's intention to cooperate after President Bush accused Saddam Hussein's regime of repeatedly defying U.N. mandates.
In the missive, the Iraqi government said it based its decision "on its desire to complete the implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions and to remove any doubts that Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction."
The transmission of the letter followed two meetings between Saddam and his top aides in Baghdad yesterday to discuss "the current political situation," the official Iraqi News Agency reported.
Iraq has long contended that it has no proscribed weapons of mass destruction.
In a statement, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the Iraqi offer was "a tactical step by Iraq in hopes of avoiding strong U.N. Security Council action."
"As such, it is a tactic that will fail," Mr. McClellan said. "This is not a matter of inspections. It is about disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and the Iraqi regime's compliance with all other Security Council resolutions."
The dramatic capitulation by Baghdad follows more than a week of pressure by its Arab and Russian allies, an offer of Saudi bases for a possible U.S.-led military strike, and appeals for Iraqi cooperation by scores of foreign leaders during the current U.N. General Assembly session.
The annual discussion opened Thursday with Mr. Bush's blunt warning to Iraq to end its refusal to allow international inspections and his challenge to member states to enforce binding Security Council resolutions.
"I believe the president's speech galvanized the international community," Mr. Annan said yesterday. "Every speaker in the General Assembly urged Iraq to accept the inspectors."
Mr. Annan particularly singled out the Arab nations for counseling Iraq to readmit the inspectors or risk "the dire consequences" of war, as Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher put it Sunday.
Security Council members greeted news of the letter with relief and some wariness.
"Saddam's regime has a long history of playing games," said a spokeswoman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "Let's see what they are offering."
The Russians were more enthusiastic.
"Thanks to our joint efforts, we managed to avert the threat of a war scenario and go back to political means of solving the Iraqi problem," Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in New York. "The main thing is for [the inspectors] to resume their work."
Iraq's intransigence has dominated the United Nations for weeks, as the Bush administration threatened military strikes to force Baghdad to accept the new weapons regime.
"We are maintaining constant contact with the Iraqi delegation here, as well as with the delegation of the Security Council members," Mr. Ivanov said shortly before the letter was delivered.
If Iraq does comply fully with inspectors, he said, the council will be "obliged" to explain how the sanctions can be lifted.
Mr. Ivanov also said that the United Nations' executive body was divided on whether a new Security Council mandate would be required before dispatching the inspectors.
The Security Council imposed sweeping sanctions on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. After U.N.-authorized coalition forces defeated Iraqi troops, the sanctions were left in place until international inspectors could determine the size of Iraq's illicit weapons program.
Eleven years later, the sanctions remain, and Iraq complains that cooperating with U.N. inspectors won't be deemed enough to lift the sanctions. The Clinton administration advocated leaving them in place until Saddam was out of power, saying that he could not be trusted.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell indicated as recently as Sunday morning that "regime change" was still the official U.S. stance on Iraq.
He told reporters yesterday morning that Washington would continue efforts to draft a tough new Security Council resolution for Iraq, notwithstanding the letter delivered by Mr. Sabri.
"The one thing I'm absolutely sure about is that we're going to continue to move forward within the Security Council on a new resolution," he said.
Mr. Annan has passed the letter to the Security Council, whose 15 members will soon decide how to proceed.
"They will decide what they do next and, of course, Mr. Blix and his team will be ready to continue their work," he said.
Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, welcomed the news last night, but spokesman Ewen Buchanan was unable to say how quickly they could get an assessment team on the ground in Iraq.
First, he said, a series of practical arrangements must be agreed to, from helicopter landing sites to increased security. After that, a roster of experts from more than 20 countries would have to be organized and deployed.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said the Security Council would consider whether a new resolution would still be needed in light of Iraq's change of heart.
"Different options are open. We will discuss with our Security Council partners what might be needed once the inspectors are to return," Mr. de Villepin told reporters.
He said he thought the inspectors could be back in Iraq "within a few days, if not a few weeks."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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