Baghdad, Sept. 17 (Reuters): Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, under intense world diplomatic pressure backed by the threat of US military action, has agreed to readmit UN weapons inspectors without conditions.
But the White House remained sceptical and warned the world not to be taken in by Baghdad’s “tactics”.
Global stock markets and the dollar, however, surged today, while world oil prices fell 2 per cent — reflecting a view that the prospects of a US strike had receded.
Iraq said the decision to let UN inspectors resume their hunt for weapons of mass destruction, suspended in 1998, should stop any US plans for an assault on the Gulf state.
“All the reasons for an attack have been eliminated,” Iraqi deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said in Baghdad. Iraqis in the street gloated over their government’s sudden shift, but some feared it would not stop the US from attacking.
A senior US official responded to the Iraqi decision by calling Saddam a “proven liar” and saying the latest twist was not enough to get him off the hook. US treasury secretary Paul O’Neill said in New York that Saddam had to be removed from office despite his latest decision on arms inspectors.
Britain, Washington’s main ally, warned against letting Saddam ridicule the world community again by playing diplomatic games.
The administration of President George W. Bush urged the UN and the US Congress to keep up pressure on Iraq, and US officials said the Pentagon was moving ahead with contingency plans for possible war. “We’ve seen this before. The Iraqis are masters of the stop-and-start,” an official said.
Further indications of Iraq’s intentions may be revealed in a letter by Saddam to the UN in the next few days.
The Iraqi decision shows signs of dividing the permanent members of the UN Security Council — the US, Britain, France, Russia and China — and Aziz appeared to play to that.
He urged France, Russia and China, and the UN chief, to check the performance of future inspectors. Both Russia and China hailed Iraq’s declared decision to allow weapons inspectors back. France, expected to play a key role, held the middle ground, saying the UN must take Iraq at its word and hold Saddam to his word.