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Friday, January 23, 1998 Published at 15:38 GMT

image: [ BBC Correspondent: Rob Watson ]Rob Watson

The United Nations Security Council is meeting to discuss the continuing crisis over Iraq. The council will be hearing from the UN's chief weapons inspector, Richard Butler, whose recent visit to Baghdad failed to break the deadlock over access to sensitive sites. During his visit, Iraq called for a three-month halt to inspections of such sites, and also threatened to throw the UN out unless sanctions are lifted by June. From New York, here's our UN correspondent Rob Watson:

Mr Butler's testimony to the Security Council is likely to be forceful and direct.

In an advanced written report to council members, he says any attempt by Iraq to prevent inspections would gravely affect the UN's efforts to verify Baghdad's claims to have destroyed all its weapons of mass destruction.

His verbal report to the council is likely to reinforce that point, and to urge diplomats not to be bullied by Baghdad.

Although the Security Council is expected to reject Iraq's demands for a moratorium on inspections there are still likely to be divisions over how to make Iraq backdown.

The United States and Britain, while expressing a preference for a diplomatic solution, have already threatened the use of military action.

But Russia, China and France have all warned against that - arguing that the use of force would solve nothing and could lead to the expulsion of the UN inspectors for good.

Diplomats say the wrangling in the Security Council could take days, and suspect the United States may well decide to use force, even if it can't secure UN backing.

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