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Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 07:16 GMT 08:16 UK
Iraq agrees to weapons inspections
US military base in Qatar
The US military build-up continues
Iraq has told the UN it is ready to readmit weapons inspectors.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the offer - in a letter from Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri - was unconditional.

Inspectors would be allowed to continue their work and Iraq was ready to discuss the practical arrangements for the return of inspectors, he said.

un inspectors
UN inspectors left Iraq in 1998
But the US - which wants Iraqi President Saddam Hussein deposed - quickly dismissed the offer as a cynical ploy and urged people to remember that Iraq had a long history of playing games.

The Iraqis said they had made the decision in order to remove any doubts that they still possessed weapons of mass destruction.

They also said that their decision was a response to a speech from Mr Annan in which he said the admission of inspectors should be the first step leading to the eventual lifting of sanctions.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell is still trying to get backing for a UN resolution giving Iraq a deadline on weapons inspections.

The administration wants a resolution that will also permit the use of force if Iraq refuses to comply.

Russia, a key member of the security council, has given its support to the Iraqi move.

"We welcome this decision," Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said.

Saudi support

Mr Powell said on Monday that the UN Security Council was moving towards the US position.

The US called Iraq's offer a "tactical step" to head off a resolution before it could be finalised.

"This is not a matter of inspection," said a White House spokesman.

"It is about disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and the Iraqi regime's compliance with all other Security Council resolutions."

Kofi Annan
Kofi Annan: Praised Arab League
Meanwhile, the US is continuing to shift military hardware close to Iraq.

The US received a major boost on Monday when Saudi Arabia said it would allow the US to use its bases there for a strike on Iraq - providing the action is endorsed by the UN.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Monday that he had ordered the air force more than a month ago to increase attacks on Iraqi's general air defence network.

Mr Rumsfeld said he had been concerned that air strikes by allied aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones over Iraq had been put at risk.

Key US air bases:
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Kuwait
  • Qatar
  • Turkey
  • Oman

  • UN inspectors left Iraq four years ago after complaining of obstruction from the Iraqi authorities.

    Since then, Iraq has refused to allow inspectors to return.

    Iraq's letter came four days after US President George W Bush addressed the UN General Assembly and said that Iraq must comply with Security Council resolutions, or face the consequences.

    Mr Annan paid "particular tribute" to all the states of the Arab League who played a "key role" in the Iraqi offer.

    Mr Annan said he would pass the letter on to the Security Council "and they will have to decide what they do next".

    He said the inspectors in the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, and their chairman Hans Blix were "ready to continue their work".

    The BBC's Jon Leyne in New York
    "Iraq's response came in a letter"
    Former US Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin
    "The key is for the Iraqi government to decide to cooperate"

    Key stories





    See also:

    17 Sep 02 | Politics
    17 Sep 02 | Middle East
    17 Sep 02 | Americas
    17 Sep 02 | Middle East
    16 Sep 02 | Middle East
    12 Sep 02 | Middle East
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