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Iraq to Allow U.N. Inspectors To Resume Weapons Search

By Craig Turner
and Robin Wright
Los Angeles Times

The United Nations ordered its weapons inspectors back into Iraq Thursday after the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein turned away from a confrontation that had threatened to draw the United States into renewed warfare in the Persian Gulf.

U.S. military forces converging on the gulf did not immediately stand down, however, reflecting the attitude at the United Nations and in Washington that the crisis will not end until the inspectors have returned to Baghdad and resumed their work hunting down and dismantling Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

Richard Butler, the Australian diplomat who leads the disarmament effort, said 77 staff members would fly into Baghdad from nearby Bahrain by noon Friday and be back on the job Saturday. He has said they will have catching up to do after three weeks of being blocked from inspections and may have to penetrate new Iraqi attempts to cover up work on prohibited weapons.

President Clinton cautiously welcomed the reversal even while ordering more American firepower within striking distance of Iraq.

"In the coming days we will wait and see whether (Saddam Hussein) does in fact comply with the will of the international community," Clinton said in Washington. He added that Iraqi "must comply unconditionally" with the U.N. program.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright took a similarly measured approach. "So far, what we have are statements by Saddam Hussein to reverse course. We want to be sure that has really happened. Actions speak louder than words," Albright said in Geneva.

National security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger told reporters the United States would continue to follow a "two-prong strategy" of diplomacy backed by the threat of military force.

On Thursday, 12 F-15 fighters, 18 F-16 fighters, two B-1 bombers and Patriot surface-to-air defense missiles were added to the American arsenal in the region. The latest deployments bring the total to 281 U.S. warplanes and 22 American ships, including two aircraft carriers.

Iraq's roll-back came after Iraq Deputy Prime Minister Tarik Aziz had discussions in Moscow with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov. Primakov then relayed the agreement at a 2 a.m. meeting in Geneva Thursday with Albright, British Foreign Minister Robin Cook, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vendrine and Sha Zukang, China's ambassador to the U.N. disarmament conference.

Despite concerns at the United Nations that Iraq still may be seeking concessions in return for its reversal, all parties insisted there had been no such deal.

Aziz, in Cairo for meetings with Egyptian and Arab League officials, said Iraq got nothing for ending the stand-off other than a platform for its complaints and Russian promises to work to accelerate the lifting of sanctions against his country and to ensure that weapons inspectors will respect Iraqi sovereignty.

"I did not make a deal in Moscow," Aziz insisted to reporters. He said there were no "specific commitments" from the Russians, but that he believes they "will do their best to correct the wrong situation and start a new approach toward Iraq" within the Security Council.

A statement issued by Iraq and Russia as a result of the Yeltsin-Aziz meeting pledges Russia will "take active measures to enhance the effectiveness of the work" of the weapons group, called the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq.

U.N. officials said Russia, perhaps joined by France and China, could step up pressure on the Security Council to ease the Iraqi oil embargo and other crippling economic sanctions and may press for changes in the disarmament process and for increasing the number of non-American inspectors.

The United States and Britain are wary of such initiatives, although they have indicated they may agree to increase the amount of oil Iraqi is allowed to sell under a U.N.-administered humanitarian program and might not object to raising the number of non-American inspectors.

Bill Richardson, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, noted that side agreements between Iraq and Russia are not binding on the United States. "There is no quid pro quo, no concession, no carrots on the part of the United States," he said. He added the United States would use its Security Council veto if necessary to prevent what it considered a premature lifting of sanctions.

The 18-member panel that serves as the disarmament's oversight body will meet in emergency session Friday and report to the Security Council. It could recommend changes in the inspection process.

According to their reports to the Security Council, weapons inspectors have been harassed, blocked, and misled by Iraqi authorities in their more than six years on the job.