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Wednesday, August 5, 1998 Published at 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK

World: Middle East

Iraq arms talks collapse

Richard Butler (centre) - curtailing his Baghdad mission

The UN's chief arms inspector has left Baghdad after talks with Iraq collapsed, prompting the threat of a fresh crisis in the Middle East.

Roger Hearing: Iraq and the UN "on the road to confrontation"
Richard Butler headed back to New York a day early to report to the Security Council about what he called serious difficulties during his latest mission to Iraq.

Baghdad rejected UN proposals designed to ensure that Iraq is fulfilling its commitments to destroy weapons of mass destruction.

The elimination of such arms is a pre-condition for the lifting of UN sanctions imposed after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait eight years ago.

[ image: Iraqis are tired of the sanctions]
Iraqis are tired of the sanctions
The breakdown in talks comes after the Deputy Iraqi Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, said it was pointless becoming involved in an unending process to prove what the Iraqis had already shown - that they no longer had such weapons.

The BBC correspondent in Baghdad, Roger Hearing, says Iraq appears to be challenging the whole weapons inspection process, not just a specific issue as it did in June over access to what were termed presidential sites.

Inspectors accused of pro-US bias

The inspection programme was agreed in June with Mr Butler.

Baghdad was told to comply with the plans if it wanted sanctions lifted.

Mr Butler's latest visit was intended to assess to what extent Baghdad had complied.

"We were here seven weeks ago and at that time agreed to a programme of work - I would call it an accelerated programme of work - through which we hope to get to the end of the disarmament issues," said Mr Butler.

[ image: Mr Butler has been attacked in Iraq's media]
Mr Butler has been attacked in Iraq's media
It was Mr Aziz, he said, who had asked him to come back, so that they "could check together what the progress had been, what had been achieved, and what may still need to be done".

But as the war of words escalated, the Iraqis accused UN weapons inspectors of "acting dishonestly".

The BBC's UN Correspondent Rob Watson: "Little progress since June"
Mr Aziz denied Iraq had any weapons of mass destruction and accused the UN Special Commission (Unscom) in charge of disarmament of dragging out its work in order to suit hostile American policy.

He said: "The manner in which the inspection teams have acted recently is neither honest nor fast.

"This policy serves the United States.

Tariq Aziz: "Iraq does not have any weapons of mass destruction"
"I have had ... the impression that Unscom is back to its old games and tricks," he said.

Our correspondent says the Iraqi Government seems to have largely given up hope of early progress through the UN and normal diplomatic channels.

He says the signs are that it is looking for other ways to get what it wants.

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