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U.S. Talks Tough to Baghdad On U.N. Weapons Inspections

By John M. Goshko
The Washington Post

Evidence that Iraq might have moved sensitive equipment and tampered with U.N. surveillance cameras drew more tough talk from senior U.S. officials Thursday about the need to make President Saddam Hussein's government cooperate fully with U.N. inspectors searching for hidden weapons programs.

But Washington's efforts to get the 15-nation Security Council to deliver a comparably stern warning were turned aside by some members who argued that the council should hold its fire until next week, when a three-member U.N. diplomatic mission reports back from Baghdad. The council issued a relatively bland statement expressing concern.

The latest round in U.N.-Iraq tug of war began Wednesday, when Richard Butler, the Australian diplomat who heads the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) charged with locating and eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, reported to the council that the Iraqis were violating council orders by moving equipment beyond the range of surveillance cameras and obstructing camera operation.

In response, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Said Sahaf asserted in a letter to the council that the equipment had been moved only to protect it from potential American air strikes and would be moved back when the danger was past. He also said one U.N. surveillance camera had been damaged Wednesday when a short-range missile engine being tested by the Iraqi military exploded. Short-range missiles are not banned by the United Nations.

In Washington, the controversy about Iraq's movement of the equipment led the Clinton administration to reiterate U.S. determination to ensure that Saddam complies fully with the conditions he accepted in exchange for the cease-fire ending the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

"He must know he has to comply with the will of the international community, as expressed in (U.N.) resolutions and enforced by those, including us, who are undertaking to ensure that he complies," Vice President Al Gore said. "We will make sure that he complies."

"We are not ruling any options in or out," said Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright. "It's very important for Saddam Hussein to understand that the international community is behind" the demand for full compliance.

Defense Secretary William B. Cohen added: "I think sufficient warnings have been given to Iraq, over the year, that they must comply with U.N. sanctions . The task right now is to persuade them to cease and desist from their obstruction."

The officials continued to insist that questions about possible U.S. responses, including the use of military force, can't be addressed until after the U.N. diplomatic mission reports to the Security Council, probably on Monday.

But speculation that the United States is preparing the way for air strikes was reinforced briefly by a newspaper report from Turkey quoting Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz as saying that Washington had asked Turkey to allow the use of Incirlik air base for possible raids against Iraq.

Incirlik is used by U.S. Air Force fighter planes enforcing the no-fly zone over Kurdish-populated northern Iraq. Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said the United States recently had added some F-16s to its force there. But Bacon said: "This has nothing to do with the current dispute between Iraq and the U.N. This plan was made prior to this dispute over inspections."

Bacon also said that a port call scheduled this weekend for the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier now in the Persian Gulf region has been postponed. He added: "Changes in operations take place from time to time, and I don't think we're trying to send any signal right now to Saddam Hussein, except he ought to comply with the U.N. mandates."

In Baghdad, the Iraqis continued for the fourth straight day to block U.N. inspectors from working because they refused to remove six Americans on the inspection team. As a result, Butler said here, the commission has not been able to assess fully the extent and seriousness of tampering with the camera surveillance.

"They've turned the lights off, and it's pretty hard to take pictures when you've got no lights," he told CNN. "In other places, they've simply obstructed the cameras, put bags over the lenses."