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Hussein Condemns American Aggression in U.N. Message

By Colum Lynch

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein declared Thursday that his country “is clear of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons” and urged the United Nations to resist the Bush administration’s campaign to obtain U.N. backing for a military strike against his government.

In a message read before the U.N. General Assembly by Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, Saddam cast his country as a victim of American aggression and claimed the United States had “fabricated” charges that Baghdad has been secretly building an arsenal of banned weapons of mass destruction. The Iraqi president also charged that Washington’s military ambitions were aimed at defending Israel’s interests in the Middle East and acquiring control of Iraq’s oil fields.

The speech was received with warm applause from the delegates in the General Assembly chamber, although the U.S. delegation remained impassive as Sabri ended his remarks.

“I hereby declare before you that Iraq is clear of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons,” the Iraqi foreign minister said, reading from Saddam’s message to the world body. “The U.S. administration wants to destroy Iraq in order to control the Middle East oil. In targeting Iraq, the United States administration is acting on behalf of Zionism which has been killing the heroic people of Palestine, destroying their property, murdering their children, and seeking to impose their domination on the whole world.”

The Iraqi remarks came as the United States, backed by Britain, stepped up pressure on the Security Council to approve tough action against Baghdad. The United States is seeking Security Council support for a resolution authorizing military action against Baghdad if it refuses to grant unfettered access to U.N. weapons inspectors and is informing council members that if they do not act, the administration believes it has the authority to move against Iraq unilaterally under the U.N. Charter.

In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the speech “presented nothing new and was more of the same.”

“The speech is an attempt to lure the world down the same dead-end road that the world has traveled before and, in that, it represents a disappointing failure by Iraq,” Fleischer said.

Saddam reiterated Iraq’s invitation to U.N. weapons inspectors or any other foreign politicians or scientists, saying that Baghdad is “ready to cooperate with the Security Council” on arranging new inspections, which were suspended in 1998 after repeated intransigence by the Iraqi government. But he added that Iraq and the United Nations would have to strike “a balanced formula” for inspections that would “reassure Iraq with regard to its security, sovereignty, territorial integrity and its right to choosing its own way with out interference.”

He also demanded that the U.N. lift sanctions on Iraq and force Israel to abide by Security Council resolutions calling for the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, including Israel’s nuclear weapons program.

U.S. officials are concerned that Iraq intends to block inspections to a broad range of national security sites in Iraq, citing existing agreements with the United Nations that require the inspectors to follow a cumbersome set of procedures before they can gain access to such sites.