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Tuesday, 19 November, 2002, 15:28 GMT
Iraqi fire 'does not break resolution'
Hans Blix (L), Mohamed El Baradei (C) and General Amir al-Saadi (R)
The inspectors are beginning their first full day of talks
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that recent Iraqi attacks on US and British planes in the country's no-fly zones are not a violation of the latest Security Council resolution.

Mr Annan's remarks differ from those of a White House spokesman, who said the Iraqi action amounted to a "material breach" of the new UN resolution, which is aimed at eradicating alleged weapons of mass destruction.

An F-15C patrols the Iraqi no-fly zone
The US claims firing on allied planes breaches the resolution
His comments came as an advance team of 30 UN weapons inspectors, led by Hans Blix, began their first full day of talks in Iraq after an absence of four years.

The new resolution, passed two weeks ago, gives the UN team unprecedented powers of access when they start looking for weapons of mass destruction next week.

Baghdad has promised full co-operation, saying it has nothing to hide.

No-fly zones

But the dispute over the no-fly zone has already created tensions.

Allied warplanes patrolling the zones in northern and southern Iraq bombed Iraqi air defences on Monday.

US Central Command said the raids came after Iraqi forces fired at allied aircraft.

Open in new window : Iraq spotlight
Click to see maps of Iraq's suspected weapons sites

The US appears to be alone among the 15 member states of the Security Council in insisting that the no-fly zones are included in the resolution.

One sentence in the resolution says Iraq "shall not take or threaten hostile acts" against any UN member state personnel who are "taking action to uphold" a Security Council resolution.

Some quarters of the Bush administration say this is relevant to the no-fly zone patrols because the flights were implemented to uphold a 1991 UN resolution designed to keep Iraq from repressing its civilian population.

Next steps
18 Nov: Inspectors arrive in Iraq
8 Dec: Iraq must reveal all programmes, plants and materials which could be used for weapons production
23 Dec: Inspections must have resumed
21 Feb: Inspectors to report to UN Security Council

That view is not universally accepted, however, because the patrols are not explicitly authorised by the Security Council.

Baghdad also rejects the charge, arguing that the patrols - imposed by the US, Britain and France after the 1991 Gulf War - violate Iraqi sovereignty.

US President George W Bush said on Monday that he still hoped for a peaceful disarmament of Iraq, but he added that the US was ready to take action if that failed.

He is due in Prague for a Nato summit, where he hopes to boost support for his hard-line stance against Iraq.

Mammoth task

Mr Blix, the UN chief weapons inspector, has been joined in Iraq by the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed El Baradei, and a 25-strong international team of technical specialists.

Together they are expected to lay the groundwork for full inspections to begin by 27 November.

An Iraqi man stands in front of a picture of Saddam Hussein
Washington is insisting on a regime change
Mr Blix and Mr El Baradei held talks on Monday night with General Hosam Amin, Iraq's liaison with past inspectors, and presidential adviser Amir al-Saadi.

After the two-hour session, Mr Blix said the situation was "tense", but that he thought that the mission had started well and progress had been made.

Mark Gwozdecky, spokesman for the UN nuclear controls agency, said that if the Iraqis co-operate, the inspectors should "have a very good feel" for President Saddam Hussein's weapons programmes "within a year".

"Until we go in and get our people on the ground, we won't know," he added. "It's a little bit like an exploratory surgery that you don't know until you open up the patient."

The BBC's correspondent in Baghdad, Caroline Hawley, says that after an absence of four years, the inspectors have a huge amount to do and hundreds of sites to see, if they are to uncover Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

The BBC's Ben Brown
"Hans Blix is a consummate diplomat"
Jack Straw, UK Foreign Secretary
"This is Saddam Hussein's final opportunity to comply with the international community"
Melissa Fleming, International Atomic Energy Agency
"The only notice we hope to give them is when we arrive at the door"

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See also:

19 Nov 02 | Business
19 Nov 02 | South Asia
18 Nov 02 | Americas
18 Nov 02 | Middle East
18 Nov 02 | Middle East
01 Oct 02 | Middle East
19 Sep 02 | Europe
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