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Thursday, 12 December, 2002, 00:15 GMT
US defends Iraq dossier handling
Weapons inspectors in Iraq
Inspections have been continuing apace
The United States ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, has defended the handling of Iraq's weapons dossier since it arrived in New York on Sunday.

A number of UN Security Council members have been critical of the decision to allow the permanent five members of the Council advance access to the documents.

You can think of us as having performed a technical service on behalf of the Council

John Negroponte
There was also a chorus of criticism when the only full copy of the sensitive declaration was flown to Washington.

UN weapons teams in Iraq inspected another five facilities on Wednesday - including a first visit to a factory making tanks and missile parts listed in Iraq's arms dossier.

In an interview with the BBC Mr Negroponte said the decisions had been based on a need to be helpful to UN weapons inspectors, and to speed up analysis.

In New York, chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said he expected to be able to give copies of Iraq's 12,000-page declaration to all 15 Security Council members on Monday.

The other 10 rotating members - who are not nuclear powers - are to receive edited versions of the report.

The permanent members of the Security Council were reportedly given access to the document so they could suggest the deletion of parts of the text that could inadvertently give details on how to make weapons of mass destruction.

John Negroponte
Negroponte says the US was helping

"You can think of us as having performed a technical service on behalf of the Council and it was in no way intended to cause some invidious comparison between the treatment accorded the United States and the treatment accorded other members," Mr Negroponte said.

He said difficult decisions had to be made in a short space of time and that the Security Council members consulted each other over the weekend as the Iraqi declaration was being flown to New York.

The intent of the whole exercise he said was to assist the UN weapons inspectors in producing a working copy of the declaration in the shortest possible time.

The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has described the handling of the dossier as "unfortunate".

Washington nuclear threat

On Wednesday the weapons inspectors also continued work at a site near the Syrian border, which in the past is believed to have been connected to Iraq's nuclear programme.

Kofi Annan
Annan said the UN's handling was 'unfortunate'

Most of the 70 or so inspectors now in the country went out on visits, a spokesman for the teams said.

Iraq denies it has any weapons of mass destruction, but Western governments believe it may be capable of producing a nuclear warhead for its missiles within two or three years.

Washington warned on Wednesday that if Iraq's President Saddam Hussein ever used weapons of mass destruction against US troops or their allies, he could face a possible nuclear response.

In a statement delivered to the US Congress President George W Bush said America reserved the right to respond with overwhelming force to the use of weapons of mass destruction against the US or its allies.

The BBC's Justin Webb in Washington says the warning is similar to those issued before the 1991 Gulf War, where the US threatened the severest consequences in the event of chemical or biological attack.

 VOTE RESULTS
Iraq: Is war inevitable?

Yes
 58.14% 

No
 41.86% 

74035 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


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11 Dec 02 | Americas
10 Dec 02 | Middle East
09 Dec 02 | Americas
08 Dec 02 | Middle East
25 Sep 02 | Conflict with Iraq
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