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Date: Thu, 20 Nov 1997 07:16:44 -0600
Message-Id: <199711201316.HAA05816@radish.interlink-bbs.com>
From: alghassa@sol.racsa.co.cr
To: Iraq-l@interlink-bbs.com
Subject: IRQ-NEWS: Iraq Says U.N. Arms Monitors Can Return

Iraq Says U.N. Arms Monitors Can Return

By Hassan Hafidh, Reuters, Thursday 20 November 1997 4:57 AM EST

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq has agreed with Russia that U.N. arms inspectors will return to Iraq to resume work effective Thursday, the Iraqi news agency INA reported, apparently defusing a three-week-old crisis.

The joint Russian-Iraqi statement was issued in Baghdad and Moscow after a middle-of-the-night meeting in Geneva at which the world's major powers demanded that Iraq allow the inspectors to return unconditionally.

Bagdad radio said Iraqi leaders have approved the Iraqi-Russian agreement.

Iraq has accepted the return of U.N. Special Commission inspectors, including the Americans, the radio said, quoting a statement issued after a meeting of the Revolutionary Command Council and the regional command of the ruling Baath party chaired by President Saddam Hussein.

The standoff began on October 29 when Iraq ordered the expulsion of Americans working in U.N. arms inspection teams in charge of dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction under the 1991 Gulf War ceasefire. Baghdad had accused them of espionage.

The order was carried out last Thursday and the United Nations pulled out most of its other inspectors the next day.

Washington and United Nations officials have accused Iraq of lying, obstructing the inspectors' work and hiding its weapons programmes.

The United States and Britain, allies in the Gulf War that drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait, pursued diplomacy but geared up for possible military action against Iraq. There was widespread opposition in the Arab world and beyond to the use of force.

Iraq and Russia have reached an agreement in which Iraq has agreed that the (U.N.) Special Commission with its complete components will return to resume its ordinary work in Iraq as from today, November 20, INA said.

It quoted the statement as saying that Russia would contribute to a rapid lifting of sanctions on Iraq, particularly the implementation of paragraph 22 of the (U.N.) Resolution 687 without any additional conditions, and for this end fast steps to increase the work of the Special Commission will be taken.

Paragraph 22 calls for ending curbs on Iraq's oil exports, imposed for Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, if U.N. inspectors certify that Iraq has no more weapons of mass destruction. Iraq says it has complied with U.N. resolutions and that punitive sanctions should be lifted.

INA said agreement was reached after an exchange of letters between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

The Revolutionary Command Council and the regional command of the Arab Baath Socialist Party are currently holding a joint meeting to discuss the joint communique between Baghdad and Moscow, INA said, adding that a statement would be issued at the end of the meeting.

The agency also said Iraqi parliament speaker Saadoun Hammadi had briefed members of parliament on the positive results of the letters exchanged between the Iraqi and Russian leadership.

Baghdad radio cut short programs to announce the agreement and started broadcasting patriotic songs.

The statement was issued after a visit to Moscow by Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz and mediation by Russia's foreign minister and veteran Middle East expert, Yevgeny Primakov, who has had close ties with Iraq.

In Manama, a U.N. official said the inspectors, who withdrew from Iraq to their field headquarters in Bahrain, had not yet received word on their possible return.

The foreign ministers of the United States, Britain, Russia and France and a representative of China issued a statement after the emergency Geneva talks.

They welcomed Russia's efforts to broker a diplomatic solution and said they hoped it would lead to the unconditional and complete fulfilment by Iraq of all the relevant resolutions of the U.N. Security Council.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said Primakov had told the meeting that Iraq was on the verge of announcing it would allow the inspectors back unconditionally.

Mr Primakov felt able to indicate that a decision by Iraq in that direction was imminent or in any case expected in the very near future, Vedrine told reporters. That makes it possible to envisage an end to the immediate crisis.

Albright, who flew nearly half way around the world from India to attend the meeting, said any talk of scaling down the huge U.S. military buildup in the Gulf would be completely premature.

She insisted the United States had agreed to nothing in exchange for an Iraqi climbdown.

The United States sent some 250 warplanes and 22 warships to the Gulf to threaten Saddam with massive retaliation if diplomacy failed. But U.S. President Bill Clinton made clear he would prefer a diplomatic solution.

The brief statement by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council said a meeting on Friday of the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) on disarming Iraq would discuss ways to make UNSCOM's work more effective.

Vedrine said this could include the issue of the composition of the disarmament teams, which Iraq complains are dominated by Americans.

The five powers made no mention of any end of U.N. sanctions or expansion of the arrangement under which Iraq is allowed to sell a limited amount of oil to buy food and medicine for its suffering people.

Vedrine, whose ministry called on Wednesday for Iraq to be shown a light at the end of the tunnel on sanctions, said an unconditional reversal of the Iraqi decision was the prior condition for discussing all other issues.

There is a chronology that has to be respected, he said.

France and Russia, both owed large debts by Iraq, are keen to have the embargo lifted so that they can benefit from lucrative oil deals and start to see repayments.

Albright declared in March that even if Iraq did comply fully with the disarmament conditions, sanctions should stay in place because Saddam would remain a constant threat.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, whose country has been Washington's staunchest ally in the crisis, told reporters: The message Baghdad should receive from this is that there is unity among the permanent five, where Baghdad had anticipated a split among the permanent five. I would hope this message comes through loud and clear.

Later, Cook told BBC radio that no deal had been struck with Saddam: He has not won any compromise. There are no concessions. There is no deal.

There is no commitment on the part of the United Nations permanent five to lift those sanctions.