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US spurns Iraq's invitation to inspectors

Iraq has reiterated its willingness to allow UN weapons inspectors unconditional access to its facilities, but the United States dismissed the offer as "word play," and Baghdad warned other Arab nations they could be next if the United States attacked Iraq.
In a letter to chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iraq clarified its agreement on the return of UN inspectors after they pulled out of the country in frustration and disgust four years ago.

But the letter sent Saturday, the second in two days, stopped short of promising inspectors free access to presidential palaces.

IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky told AFP the letter from Iraqi presidential adviser Amir El-Sadi, head of the Iraqi delegation to weapons talks in Vienna on October 1, was an "explicit confirmation" that Iraq agreed to arrangements made in Vienna.

Washington dismissed the October 10 letter as "a page-and-a-half of rhetoric that says everything but 'yes'"

And State Department spokeswoman Jo-Anne Prokopowicz said of Saturday's letter, "Iraq continues to want to play word games and not comply" with UN resolutions.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz meanwhile warned that the United States would target other Arab countries should it invades Iraq.

"Iraq is the first target," he said in an interview with Lebanese satellite television. "All neighbouring countries will be divided afterwards."

Countries at risk, said Aziz, included "Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan," which he said could become a de facto home for Palestinians expelled from the West Bank.

In Russia, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington's closest ally on Iraq, made little headway in trying to convince President Vladimir Putin of the need for the UN to threaten Iraq with military force if it does not comply fully with disarmament and inspection resolutions.

Putin reportedly agreed to a new, strongly worded security council resolution on Iraq, but refused to condone any threat of force.

The five veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Russia, France, Britain, the US and China -- are engaged in tough consultations over the framing of a resolution that would require Iraq to abandon its capability for acquiring nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

US President George W. Bush wants a single new UN resolution creating a beefed-up inspections regime with unfettered access to alleged chemical, biological or nuclear weapons development sites and spelling out the consequences for non-compliance.
 
 

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