Bush sounds warning as inspectors prepare to return

 

The chief UN arms inspector will tonight hold talks with Iraqi officials on the logistics of new weapons checks but splits are emerging within the Security Council on the strategy for forcing Iraq to disarm.

Speaking in Nashville, Tennessee, US President George W Bush said the United Nations "must not be fooled" by Iraq's unconditional offer to let the inspectors back after a hiatus of almost four years.

Underlining that he wants a new council resolution, President Bush said Iraqi President "Saddam Hussein has already delayed, denied and deceived the world."

But Russia, one of five council members with a veto, said no new resolution was needed to get the inspectors back into Iraq.

Foreign Minister Igov Ivanov said "there could be many views about whether we can trust this letter" containing Iraq's offer, delivered to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

"Facts alone could corroborate this," Mr Ivanov said, adding: "In order to get the facts, we need to bring about the speedy return of the inspectors to Iraq... without any artificial delay."

Council members met for an hour behind closed doors to discuss what to do next, but arrived at no decision, diplomats said.

Instead they invited Mr Hans Blix, chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, to brief them tomorrow on his talks with Iraqi officials.

The officials due to meet Mr Blix later tonight (Irish time) include Mr Hossan Amin, former head of Iraq's national monitoring directorate, who is an expert on the chemical and biological weapons Iraq claims it no longer possesses.

But Mr Blix has consistently refused to discuss the substance of inspections with Iraq, and UN spokesman, Mr Fred Eckhard, said tonight's talks would focus on "practical details" such as visas for inspectors and when inspectors could reopen an office in Baghdad.

Outlining the case for a new council resolution, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said "the issue is not inspectors; the issue is disarmament.@

The council must keep pressure on Iraq, "to make sure that if we start down this road, it is a new road, a different road with tough conditions, tough standards," Mr Powell said.

Inspections must be possible "any time, any place, any person."

US officials earlier said a new resolution would "catalogue the sins of Saddam Hussein" and clearly spell out the consequences he would face if he failed to comply with council demands.

Resolutions adopted after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990 demand Baghdad remove all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and long-range missiles, and that it submit to UN verification inspections.

In Resolution 1284, adopted December 17th, 1999, the council offered to suspend the crippling sanctions imposed on Iraq if Baghdad cooperated fully with the inspectors.

Egypt and Jordan, key allies of the United States in the Middle East, threw their weight behind the Russian view. "The United Nations has asked for unconditional and unfettered access by inspectors in Iraq and that condition has been met," Jordan's Foreign Minister Marwan Moasher said.

"I believe the tension has been somewhat defused and it is up to all of us to do what we can in order to change the dynamics and make sure that a war is avoided in the region.

France, another permanent council member, was noncommittal about the need for a new council resolution.

"The technical arrangements are specified in Resolution 1284," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said.

"We wish to act without delay. The international community must now send in the inspectors and they must be able to start their work quickly."

AFP