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World Briefs I

Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector Endorses Iraq Deal

The Washington Post

The chief U.N. weapons inspector Thursday joined Secretary General Kofi Annan to refute charges by some Republican congressional leaders that Annan's agreement with Iraq weakens the United Nations's ability to search out prohibited Iraqi weapons programs.

Richard Butler, the Australian diplomat who leads the Special Commission (UNSCOM) responsible for weapons inspections, praised the accord as the potential key to finally eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. His strong endorsement is likely to diffuse criticism of the deal on the grounds that it weakens the ability of UNSCOM to carry out its mission.

The counterattack by the secretary general came as the Security Council began seeking agreement on a resolution that the United States hopes will set the stage for severe penalties if Iraq fails to comply with the accord Annan negotiated last weekend with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Although Annan did not single out critics by name, his retort clearly was aimed at Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., who accused Annan of agreeing to conditions that would give Iraq some control over inspections by UNSCOM. But today Butler said of the agreement, "I welcome it. The arrangements are entirely satisfactory to the organization I lead."

Key GOP Senators Pledge to Unite In Discussion of Tobacco Deal

The Washington Post

The proposed national tobacco settlement picked up some momentum Thursday as key Senate Republicans inched closer together in trying to fashion a comprehensive measure on the divisive issue.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, exchanged public promises of cooperation Thursday with Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., as Hatch testified before McCain's committee. Both senators have introduced comprehensive tobacco measures, which have been viewed as competing vehicles.

Those pushing for congressional passage of a tobacco deal viewed the fledgling alliance as hopeful. "Republicans have finally gotten organized, and the prospects [for approval] are greatly enhanced," said Washington lawyer John Coale, one of the proposed settlement's architects. Wall Street tobacco analyst Gary Black said that Hatch's "anti-tobacco stance and focus on kids' issues adds credibility" to any Republican bill.

Blumenthal Testifies on Press

The Washington Post

White House aide Sidney Blumenthal told a federal grand jury Thursday that he discussed information about prosecutors working for independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr with a number of reporters but denied there was any White House plot to spread damaging information about Starr's team, according to sources familiar with his testimony.

Blumenthal, according to these sources, answered all questions about his contacts with the press - and named specific news organizations with which he had talked. But the sources said Blumenthal declined to answer other questions about confidential conversations within the White House, citing the ongoing dispute about what presidential communications are covered by executive privilege.

After emerging from more than two hours of testimony, Blumenthal told reporters, "Ken Starr's prosecutors demanded to know what I had told reporters and what reporters had said to me about Ken Starr's prosecutors. If they think they have intimidated me, they have failed. And if any journalist here, or elsewhere, wants to talk to me, I'll be glad to talk to you."