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Inspectors must be fair: Russia

Baghdad, Nov. 15 (Reuters): Russia today urged UN weapons inspectors returning to Baghdad to focus solely on the disarmament job in hand and Iraqi newspapers said they had to be objective and free from any US influence.

Moscow, an ally of Baghdad from the Soviet days with important oil interests in the country, wants to ensure the UN experts cannot be used by Washington to justify a military invasion to oust President Saddam Hussein, a stated US aim.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister Yuri Fedotov said inspectors had to compare the current arsenal with what existed at the end of 1998 when the head of the team Richard Butler unilaterally quit Iraq, complaining Baghdad was not cooperating. “That was how he cleared the way for strikes against that country,” Fedotov told Itar-Tass news agency. This time, Fedotov said, any hitch in the UN inspectors’ work had to be brought before the UN Security Council.

An advance party of UN technicians is scheduled to arrive in Baghdad on Monday to prepare for inspections, which are not expected to begin for another week or two. The group will be accompanied by chief UN arms inspector Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director-general Mohamed ElBaradei. Moscow’s UN ambassador Sergei Lavrov said he hoped the inspectors had drawn lessons from the time experts were last in Iraq, when they pursued “tasks which had nothing to do with the need to eliminate weapons of mass destruction”.

“Crude and arrogant methods were used which ignored the sovereignty and dignity of Iraq and its people,” he told Russian television late yesterday. Iraq accepted on Wednesday a new UN resolution giving Baghdad one last chance to disarm and paving the way for weapons inspectors to return after a four-year absence.

But the US vowed again yesterday that military force would be used to oust Saddam if he did not comply. Iraq’s official al-Thawra newspaper, mouthpiece of Saddam’s ruling Baath Party, said Baghdad’s acceptance of the tough new resolution will put UN credibility to the test and said inspectors had to be honest and objective.

“The most important thing is that inspection teams should keep themselves away from American and Zionist influence which will take different forms such as bribes, blackmail, threats and the recruitment of spies under the label of experts,” al-Thawra said.

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