The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 47.0°F | Light Rain

Iraq to Let Arms Inspectors Return ‘Without Conditions’

By Colum Lynch

and Glenn Kessler
THE WASHINGTON POST -- united nations

Iraq’s foreign minister pledged Monday to allow United Nations weapons inspectors to return to his country “without conditions” for the first time since U.N. arms experts left in 1998.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan SM ’72 hailed the pledge as “the indispensible first step towards an assurance that Iraq no longer possesses weapons of mass destruction.” But the White House denounced the overture as a ruse and “a tactic that will fail.”

“This is not a matter of inspections,” the White House said in a statement, which urged the United Nations to continue with plans for a resolution demanding that Iraq disarm. “It is about disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the Iraqi regime’s compliance with all other Security Council resolutions.”

The Iraqi invitation, outlined in a letter to Annan from Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, appeared calculated to undermine the Bush administration’s efforts to build a case at the United Nations for military action against Saddam Hussein if he fails to disarm. It came as Iraq faces mounting pressure from even its closest allies, including Russia and key Arab leaders, to submit to inspections.

U.S. officials are concerned that Iraq’s gambit will complicate their efforts to strengthen the resolve in the international community for tough action against the Baghdad regime. Inspections alone are not enough, said the officials, who have portrayed inspections as a potentially time-consuming process that is a step removed from the administration’s prime goals: dismantling Iraq’s major weapons, improving human rights in the nation and, ultimately, removing Hussein from power.

Enforcement of earlier U.N. demands, Monday night’s White House statement said, “will require a new, effective U.N. Security Council resolution that will actually deal with the threat Saddam Hussein poses to the Iraqi people, to the region, and to the world.”

In an interview, White House communications director Dan Bartlett said the administration hopes that past problems with Iraq will persuade Security Council nations not to have “a knee-jerk reaction” to Monday’s letter.

“This doesn’t change our posture one bit,” Bartlett said. “The tired tactic of Saddam Hussein’s overture on inspectors is something he’s done in the past and is met with a healthy dose of skepticism.”

Before Sabri’s letter was made public Monday night, the Bush administration moved on several fronts, diplomatic and military, to prepare for a confrontation with Iraq. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met with a succession of foreign officials, including four members of the Security Council, to press the U.S. case for a tough resolution.

“I’m absolutely sure that we’re going to continue to move forward within the Security Council on a new resolution,” Powell told reporters before the Iraqi letter was announced. “The political dynamic has changed” in light of Bush’s speech to the United Nations last week.

After announcing the Iraqi invitation, Annan credited Bush for “galvanizing” international support for the resumption of U.N. inspections in Iraq. He also singled out Amir Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, for “convincing the Iraqis to accept the inspectors.”