Saddam Hussein appeared poised last night to agree to resumed UN arms inspections
in Iraq, in a deft move that looks likely to complicate Washington's resolve to
At crucial talks in Vienna with the chiefs of the UN inspection mission, senior
Iraqi officials for the first time discussed the nitty-gritty of an inspection
regime abandoned almost four years ago and pledged to supply four years of detailed
reports on Iraq's dual-use technology which can be deployed for military purposes.
"They are being positive, businesslike and they're coming with a desire to
reach an agreement," Mohammad El Baradei, the head of the UN's nuclear watchdog,
said of the Iraqi team.
Mr El Baradei, the Egyptian head of the International Atomic Energy Agency
which is preparing to send nuclear arms investigators to Iraq with other UN sleuths
hunting evidence of President Saddam's chemical, biological, and ballistic missile
arsenals. The UN hopes to have teams of inspectors in Iraq in three weeks.
Hans Blix, left, chief U.N. weapons inspector, Mohamed El Baradei, 2nd left, director
of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Iraqi Ambassador Saied Al-Moussavi,
2nd right and the head of the Iraqi delegation Amir Al Sadi, right, prepare the
second round of talks in the United Nations building in Vienna Tuesday, Oct.1,
2002. Both sides discuss "practical arrangements" for weapons inspections
in Iraq. (AP Photo/Jockel Finck)
A senior source involved in the talks said: "Unless the UN security council
tells us not to go, we probably will go. The Iraqis are now saying come.
Hans Blix, the Swedish diplomat who heads the inspectors, said: "Everything
was discussed. It was the first reading of all the practical arrangements... There
were many specific clarifications."
But while UN officials were optimistic about returning to Baghdad to enjoy
"unfettered access", Donald Rumsfeld, the US defense secretary, described any
Iraqi pledges on inspections as "patently false".
With the Vienna talks nearing a breakthrough, and with war apparently hinging
on the inspection regime and President Saddam's treatment of it, the big question
was how the US would respond and whether it could push through a new UN resolution
mandating armed force against Iraq.
The US, backed by Britain, is meeting strong resistance from Russia and France.
Senior UN officials in Vienna were also critical of some aspects of the US plans.
They said there was no point in international troops escorting inspectors, as
suggested by Washington.
Although the issue of the new UN resolution overshadowed events in Vienna and
may have focused Iraqi minds, it did not feature in the talks, said UN diplomats.
But other sources said both sides were acutely aware of the "dramatic impact"
that the US draft resolution could have. "All sides are intensely aware that things
are happening elsewhere," said one official.
Yesterday's talks focused on the terms for inspections, highly technical conditions
governing issues such as logistics, security, accommodation, use of equipment,
access to sites and overflight rights for UN helicopters and aircraft.
It was the first time such detailed talks had taken place since inspectors
left Baghdad in 1998 ending almost eight years of scrutiny. And UN diplomats were
sanguine last night that Iraq would bend.
One big issue not on the Vienna agenda, however, was Iraq's eight presidential
palaces replete with estates and facilities that have always been kept closed
"That's an issue we're not discussing. That's for the security council," said
the senior source.
And while the rulebook for inspections would be rewritten if a tough new American
UN resolution prevails, officials insisted this would not change their mandate,
merely "refine" it. "The basic mandate will not change," said the senior source.
"We are there for the long haul."
Once back inside, inspectors would need a year to establish what changes, if
any, have been made to Iraq's military build-ups, the source added.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002