Washington/Baghdad, Oct. 13 (Reuters): The US dismissed the latest Iraqi offer on weapons inspections as “word games” and repeated its call for sustained international pressure on Iraq to disarm.
Iraq appeared yesterday to relent on some UN demands on weapons inspections after earlier ignoring a list of ground rules UN officials had sent to Baghdad. But diplomats said a new letter from an Iraqi presidential adviser delivered to weapons inspectors, the second this week, still fell short of total acceptance of conditions for future inspections set down by UN disarmament officials.
“Iraq continues to want to play word games and not comply,” state department spokeswoman Jo-Anne Prokopowicz said. “It will continue to make contradictory promises and then choose the version of most tactical benefit at any given moment. Iraq responds to pressure, but will revert to non-compliance the moment it thinks it can. That is why the UN Security Council must tell Iraq what to do and what will happen if it doesn’t.”
The Security Council opens debate on Wednesday on a resolution that would threaten Iraq if it failed to provide full access to UN weapons inspectors. The US has drafted a measure that would give inspectors more rights and authorise the use of force if Iraq did not comply.
In the latest Iraqi letter, President Saddam Hussein’s adviser General Amir al-Saadi assured chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei that Baghdad wanted to remove all obstacles to the inspectors’ return.
after a nearly four-year break.
“We assert our complete readiness once again to receive the advance team on October 19 as per our preliminary agreement with you and our readiness to resolve all issues that may block the road to our joint cooperation,” al-Saadi wrote.
The new letter acknowledged the UN’s desire for ”unfettered access” to eight controversial presidential palace sites, but made no specific concession on the issue.
Yesterday’s letter, in comparison with al-Saadi’s first to the inspectors on Thursday, did hint at a new flexibility on allowing inspectors to interview Iraqis and to make flights over Iraq.
But a Western UN Security Council diplomat said Iraq was still avoiding a “yes” or “no” reply to the inspectors.
“It sounds like they recognise they had shot themselves in the foot with the first letter but this one still leaves loose ends,” the envoy said in New York.
Iraq remained defiant in the face of US threats. But Iraq’s deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz said Baghdad, which fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel during the 1991 Gulf War, had no plans to do the same again if the US attacked it.
“But Iraq had long range missiles (in 1991). Now we no longer have that sort of missile because it has been destroyed,” Aziz told a Lebanese television programme.
“This matter (the destroying of the missiles) happened in the 1990s and now it is being denied,” he added.
In London, opposition sources said six main exiled Iraqi opposition groups had failed to convene a meeting in September as requested by the US administration to decide on a future leadership to replace Saddam, damaging their credibility.
Now, opposition sources say the meeting is unlikely to take place and Washington has given up trying to convene it.
“This is scandalous,” said an independent opposition member. “The US train is leaving for Baghdad, with or without us. The Americans are hoping to strike and provoke a coup against Saddam early, which would solve the problem.”
The Iraqi government put the final touches today to preparations for a presidential referendum designed to show massive domestic support for Saddam.
It wants Tuesday’s tightly controlled vote to show that Iraqi people stand firmly behind the Iraqi strongman. Saddam, 65, is the only candidate. The result is not in doubt — official results showed he won 99.96 per cent of a first referendum in 1995.
After winning congressional backing for the possible use of force to rid Iraq of suspected weapons of mass destruction and possibly oust Saddam, Bush said in his weekly radio address yesterday that “America is speaking with one voice”.
The US now takes its case to the UN, where many states want a compromise likely to delay any war.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said most UN members preferred a French proposal for two resolutions: one to first establish tougher inspection conditions and a second that would approve the use of force if these conditions were not met.
The US wants a single resolution demanding that Iraq give inspectors “unfettered access”, and granting Washington the right to decide when and if Iraq has violated the inspection regime and to attack without further authorisation.
Annan was due to arrive in China today, a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council, as talk of compromise on action against Iraq gathered steam.
The UN sent arms experts to Iraq to destroy its weapons of mass destruction after US-led forces drove Iraqi troops from Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War. The inspectors left in 1998 before a US-British air assault to punish Baghdad for not cooperating with the UN experts.