Fri, Nov 15, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Relief greets Iraq's acceptance of UN demands on arms

REUTERS , BAGHDAD AND WASHINGTON

Weapons inspectors prepared yesterday to return to Iraq after Baghdad reluctantly accepted UN demands, and neighboring states let out a sigh of relief in the hope that the region might escape war.

Iraq's most influential newspaper, controlled by President Saddam Hussein's eldest son Uday, said, however, the threat of conflict was far from over.

"Our allies and brothers should realize that the problem with the American administration and its ally Britain is not over. Perhaps it is resuming again," Babel newspaper said.

It said Iraq's compliance with a UN resolution calling for a tough new inspection regime reflected its goodwill, adding it should be rewarded by the lifting of the sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

The paper reiterated Iraq's repeated denial that it has any weapons of mass destruction for the inspectors to discover.

That absolute denial, if maintained, could be taken by Washington as justification for waging war. The resolution calls on Iraq to give the UN "full, accurate and complete" details of weapons programs by Dec. 8.

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 his counterpart from the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab monarchies, military allies of the US but nervous that an unpopular new war might unleash waves of unrest throughout the whole region, welcomed Iraq's announcement.

"Thank God Iraq has accepted ... We hope Iraq will cooperate with the United Nations' envoys," Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef told a Saudi newspaper.

"We pray that the Iraqi people will live in peace and this apprehension that has gripped us all will be eliminated."

Kuwait called Iraq's statement "the first positive step in the right direction, but not the end."

"We feel relieved ... and hope other positive steps would follow," Information Minister Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahd al-Sabah said.

But Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammad al-Salem al-Sabah appeared more cautious.

"Let us wait and see. Iraq in the past accepted resolution 687 and then kicked the international inspectors out," he said.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad welcomed Iraq's move as positive, adding that it "distances the specter of war from the region."

US President George W. Bush said Saddam had few options.

"If he chooses not to disarm, we will disarm him," he said.

Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, which would be the most significant military ally of Washington in any attack on Iraq, told an Arabic radio station the Iraqi leader had to cooperate with the UN or be disarmed by force.

In a message that officials said was aimed directly at Saddam and the Iraqi people, Blair said that the UN demand for Iraq's disarmament was "not about oil or religion, it is about weapons of mass destruction," his spokesman said.

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