Wednesday, January 6, 1999 Published at 23:48 GMT
Annan: 'No evidence of spy claims'
Relations between Unscom and Iraq have often been stretched
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says he has no evidence that UN weapons inspectors in Iraq helped the US collect intelligence.
The reports said that Mr Annan had evidence of a systematic operation in which American agents were able to listen to secret communications between the Iraqi security bodies responsible for protecting President Saddam Hussein.
The stories sparked a diplomatic storm and lent credence to Iraqi claims that UN weapons inspectors were US spies.
"Neither the secretary-general nor any member of his staff has access to classified US intelligence, although Unscom does.
"Obviously, were these charges true, it would be damaging to the United Nations disarmament work in Iraq and elsewhere."
He added: "Our credibility rests on our ability to maintain integrity, impartiality and professionalism in our work. Any deviation from that is damaging to the United Nations."
Richard Butler, the chief weapons inspector, and the US State Department, also denied the newspaper allegations.
But he said the international assistance was to demolish a "wall of resistance" erected by Iraq to thwart arms searches.
He said: "We have never accepted or used any of that assistance for any other than to bring about the disarmament of Iraq."
State Department spokesman James Rubin said: "At no time did the US work with anyone at Unscom to collect information for the purpose of undermining the Iraqi regime."
The BBC's Baghdad Correspondent, Caroline Wyatt, says if the newspaper reports are true, they will be a vindication of what Iraq says it has known for some time. She says it is likely to kill off any chances of Unscom returning to Baghdad in its current form.
One Iraqi Government official, Nasra Al-Sadoun, said: "They are spies for the CIA and Mossad [the Israeli secret service] so why should Iraq accept their return."
Russia, who was against the December airstrikes on Iraq, repeated its call for Mr Butler to resign.