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Tuesday, June 16, 1998 Published at 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK

World: Middle East

Iraq welcomes UN deal

Aziz: 'Deal is a breakthrough'

The Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz has welcomed the agreement reached with the United Nations chief weapons inspector on verifying Iraq's disarmament programme.

In the first significant comment by Iraq on its latest agreement with the UN disarmament commission Unscom, the man who headed the Iraqi delegation said the deal was a breakthrough because it was specific and precise.

Mr Aziz said Iraq had always complained that Unscom had never been specific about what it saw as the main remaining issues preventing completion of Iraqi disarmament.

Settling differences

On Sunday the two sides agreed an intensified two-month work programme to try to narrow the gap between them on what remains of Iraq's banned weaponry.

According to Mr Aziz, the two sides also agreed to set aside certain of their differences on ballistic missiles and chemical weapons from the disarmament process, leaving them instead to the long-term monitoring phase - by implication, after sanctions on Iraq have been lifted.

Mr Aziz said: "To make a distinction between what's necessary and what's important in order to complete and finish the work of the disarmament task and other issues - this is a good result."

New practical approach

He also said the UN and Iraq had agreed a new practical approach to the issue of biological weapons - an area where the two sides are furthest apart.

The Iraqi deputy prime minister repeated Iraq's insistence that it has implemented the provisions of the Gulf War ceasefire resolution and was entitled to see sanctions lifted.

He also complained about a new UN draft resolution on Iraq's oil-for-food agreement which he said was an attempt to turn that deal into a substitute for lifting sanctions.

The BBC correspondent in Baghdad says there is clearly a new desire to accelerate the disarmament process, but both sides will be under considerable pressure as they try to sort out their remaining differences over the next few months.

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