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UN row erupts over Iraq dossier

The United States has distributed copies of Iraq's weapons dossier to all four of its fellow permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, after apparently seizing the initiative from the UN itself.
Syria - a non-permanent Council member - has protested against the decision to limit early access to the declaration to the US, France, China, Russia and the UK.

Reports say several other members of the Council are upset at the extent to which the US took charge of handing out copies to the others and editing the versions to be given to the non-nuclear powers.

The BBC's Justin Webb reports from Washington that the move amounts to a mini-coup by the US following the lengthy document's arrival in New York on Sunday night.

It had been previously agreed that the UN would make copies of the 12,000-page declaration and hand them out itself.

But, our correspondent says, American diplomats pressed Colombia, which holds the Security Council's rotating presidency for December, to allow the US to take charge of the copying process.

So the first duplicate of the document was brought to Washington, while the UN weapons inspectorate Unmovic retained the original.

The reason given for the transfer was that the photocopying facilities were better and more secure, as US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher explained:

"We have been asked to ensure that the document is copied in a controlled environment in order to guard against the inadvertent release of information."

- 'Embarrassing reading'

The Security Council's latest resolution on Iraqi disarmament had explicitly stated that the document should be handed to the Security Council as a whole, not just to a select few members.

But Colombia's UN ambassador, Alfonso Valdivieso, said the decision on early access to the report was taken only after extensive consultations with all the other Council members.

It was based, he said, on the premises that the five big nuclear powers were the only nations qualified to assess potential risks and that the report might contain information which could lead to the proliferation of nuclear weaponry.

Syria has led the way in protest at the decision to allow the US and the other four permanent Security Council members exclusive access to the declaration.

"It's in contradiction to... every kind of logic in the Security Council," said Syria's ambassador to the UN, Mikhail Wehbe.

In a BBC interview, Mr Wehbe expressed the fear that the five big powers might claim Iraq was in material breach of UN Resolution 1441 - triggering "serious consequences" - before non-permanent members of the Security Council had even seen the dossier.

Another diplomat quoted by the Reuters news agency said he believed the Iraqi declaration listed foreign suppliers which had dealt with Iraq.

The disclosure of their names could prove embarrassing for members of the the UN Security Council and other nations, he said.

The CIA is examining the document, and there is no word on how long it will be before America issues a considered verdict.

Correspondents say it is likely to take days, or possibly, weeks.

- Inspections continue

UN weapons inspectors are continuing their searches of suspect sites in Iraq using the extensive powers given them by the Security Council resolution.

On Monday, a team visited the al-Tuweitha Nuclear Research Centre for the third time since the inspectors' return last month after a four-year absence.

Other experts checked a military complex near the town of Fallujah, 90 kilometres (55 miles) northwest of Baghdad, which has been repeatedly investigated by the UN.



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