U.S. awaits Iraq's reply Hussein doesn't touch on U.N. demands in Christmas message

Newspapers reject them

American officials unconcerned about criticism in editorials

December 26, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Noting that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's Christmas message avoided mention of new United Nations weapons inspections demands, U.S. officials say they will continue to wait for formal word from Baghdad about its possible compliance.

But the demand has been rejected by newspapers in Iraq that usually parrot the government's views.

The Iraqi papers, in editorials Wednesday and yesterday, accused the United States of preparing to attack Iraq and rejected the U.N. Security Council's demand to allow U.N. inspectors entry into presidential palaces or any other site suspected of hiding biological weapons.

Calvin Mitchell, spokesman for U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson, said the United States still expected the U.N. inspectors, acting under Security Council authority, to continue their search for evidence within Iraq despite the editorials. "We have no reaction to the editorials," Mitchell said. "This is not an official Iraqi response."

In the latest phase of the confrontation, the 15 members of the Security Council issued a unanimous statement Monday denouncing Iraq's refusal to let the inspectors enter a host of compounds that the Iraqis have designated as "presidential sites."

Council members, calling this "unacceptable and a clear violation of the relevant resolutions," demanded that Iraq allow the inspectors "immediate, unconditional access" to any site they wish to inspect.

Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi deputy prime minister, quickly denounced the statement as an action that "mirrors once again the blackmail practiced by America on the council" and the authoritative Iraqi newspapers followed with calls of defiance.

The Clinton administration has issued strong though vague threats to Iraq that failure to allow inspectors into the sites could lead to "serious consequences." While Washington has said it is willing to let other countries try to induce cooperation from Hussein, Richardson has warned, "Patience eventually is going to run out."

The United States has said U.N. resolutions adopted after the Persian Gulf war ended in 1991 provide authority to use military ++ action to force Iraq to comply.

But Russia and France have called for more time to seek a peaceful solution and the Iraqi newspaper editorials seem likely to prompt diplomats from those two nations to go to Baghdad to try once more to persuade Hussein to cooperate.

To do so, French and Russian diplomats must assure him that the United States will go along with the lifting of international economic sanctions against Iraq should the inspectors pronounce his country free of weapons of mass destruction.

France and Russia, which want to help develop Iraqi oil fields, would like to see the sanctions lifted and have resisted the idea of using force to make Hussein comply with the inspections.

Although Hussein made no reference to the inspections of presidential sites in his Christmas message to Iraqi Christians, he said Iraq would continue to struggle against "injustice and its doers, in the forefront of which are America the aggressor together with Zionism and its usurper entity," a reference to Israel.

In the Iraqi editorials, the official Al Qadissiya wrote yesterday: "We're tired of hearing America repeat the same old song that Iraq is not cooperating with the U.N. teams charged with disarmament. It is trying to raise tensions and invent pretexts to push the Security Council to condemn Iraq.

"Everything is part of feverish American efforts to attempt to prepare for aggression against Iraq," Al Qadissiya said.

Al Thawra, the official newspaper of the ruling Arab Baath Socialist Party, said Wednesday that "there should be a red line that inspection teams should not go beyond." That red line, according to Al Thawra, must be painted around presidential palaces and other presidential sites.

A third newspaper, Al Jumhouriya, said Iraqis should take their stand on the presidential sites and, if necessary, make them the stage for an "honorable national battle."

The U.S. position has been that Iraq's compliance with the resolution on inspections would not be enough to warrant lifting the sanctions. The United States has said it intended to veto lifting sanctions until Iraq complied with all the U.N. resolutions ending the Persian Gulf war.

But if Hussein satisfied the inspectors, there would be enormous international pressure on the Clinton administration to allow the lifting of the sanctions.

The crisis had its most dangerous moments in October when Hussein refused to allow U.S. inspectors into the country and threatened to shoot down American U-2 planes making surveillance flights for the United Nations.

U.S. officials made it clear they would retaliate militarily if Iraq harmed an American inspector or shot down a U-2. That flash point was averted in November, however, when the Russians persuaded Hussein to back down.

Pub Date: 12/26/97

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