Iraq accepts U.N. terms

Weapons inspectors scheduled to arrive Monday

Hostile letter is delivered two days before deadline

U.S. says Hussein `had no choice'

Weapons list due Dec. 8

checks to start by Dec. 23

November 14, 2002|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Yielding to international pressure and a drumbeat of threats from President Bush, Iraq grudgingly agreed yesterday to a United Nations resolution requiring it to disarm and submit to unconditional weapons inspections.

Iraq's agreement to "deal with" the U.N. resolution cleared the first hurdle toward a resumption of inspections under new rules unanimously approved Friday by the Security Council.

Baghdad's response was conveyed in a hostile nine-page letter in which it called the United States and Britain a "gang of evil" that engineered the U.N. resolution's approval through "wicked slander."

The letter's angry tone, its veiled warning to inspectors and its denial that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction raised doubts about how well Baghdad will cooperate with the inspectors, who are scheduled to arrive Monday.

The letter was delivered to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan by Mohammed al-Douri, Iraq's envoy to the United Nations, two days before a deadline set by the Security Council.

At the White House, where he met with Bush, Annan said: "Iraq has accepted. I think the word - the acceptance and inviting the inspectors to come in - is there, so we take it that they have accepted it."

American officials, in guarded reactions, said they would attach importance to Iraq's actions, not its words. The administration has warned that if Iraq fails to get rid of all programs to develop nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, the United States will lead an international military coalition to remove Saddam Hussein's regime.

Bush, in a joint appearance at the White House with Annan, offered no response to the Iraqi letter.

But Scott McClellan, a White House spokesman, dismissed its significance. He said there "was never a question of accepting or rejecting the resolution. The U.N. resolution is binding on Iraq and the Iraqi regime. Saddam Hussein had no choice but to accept the resolution."

At the same time, McClellan issued a new warning to Baghdad not to threaten U.S. and British warplanes that are patrolling no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq. The resolution adopted by the Security Council, McClellan said, "calls for the regime in Iraq to stop firing on aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones."

This was the first time the White House has asserted that the patrols were covered in the resolution. McClellan referred to a provision that bars Iraq from hostile actions or threats against personnel of nations acting "to uphold any Security Council resolution."

U.N. deadlines

Iraq was required to confirm by tomorrow that it would accept the rigorous terms of the new resolution. A team of inspectors led by Hans Blix, chief of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, is due to arrive in Baghdad on Monday to begin setting up its operation.

The next hurdle - the one U.S. officials are awaiting as a sign of Iraq's intentions to disarm - will come Dec. 8. That is when Baghdad must make a complete declaration of its programs for weapons of mass destruction.

The U.N. resolution warns that any omissions or false statements in the declaration would be a "material breach" and that the council would decide how to respond.

The inspectors are supposed to begin their work by Dec. 23 and report to the Security Council 60 days after that.

"I think we all have to be a bit patient," Annan said.

Measuring compliance

Speaking to reporters in Washington before the Iraqi decision was announced, Annan pointed out the sharp difference in views among Security Council members on what would constitute a "material breach" by Iraq.

Annan said the United States is "seen to have a lower threshold," adding that the U.S. stance could be interpreted as "a flimsy or hasty attempt to go to war."

His comments pointed to a possible dispute among council members.

U.S. officials have said any resistance by Iraq could justify U.S. military action. But other countries say that only a flagrant violation would justify it.

Asked after his meeting with Bush whether he thought the president would allow time for the U.N. inspections to proceed, Annan said, "The president is determined that the disarmament will take place and that we should press ahead with our plans."

`Nine pages of diatribe'

The Iraqi letter to the United Nations was written in such defiant tones that Bush administration officials were unsure at first that Baghdad had accepted the Security Council resolution.

"We don't understand why it takes nine pages of diatribe to say yes," a senior State Department official said. "We have to look at it carefully to see if they really do say yes."

The letter began by accusing Bush of "the most wicked slander against Iraq" and declaring that the president is supported in his mission "by his lackey Tony Blair," the British prime minister.

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