Arms inspector returns to Iraq

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RICHARD BUTLER, the chief United Nations arms inspector, returned to Iraq yesterday on his first visit since the crisis over the inspection of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction last month which almost led to war. He said the agreement on 23 February between Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, and Iraq had ''created a new spirit of co-operation''.

Mr Butler, who has been accused by Iraq of seeking confrontation in the past, is accompanied by another UN envoy, Prakash Shah, who said yesterday he had been sent to avert any political crisis that might occur during the inspection of Iraqi sites. He will stay for six months. Mr Shah said: ''We have been briefed to watch developments in relations between Iraq and the UN, and to help to avert any escalation of the crisis which might develop.''

Mr Shah said that the sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1990 could not ''stay forever''. His appointment appears to curtail the influence of Mr Butler, whom Russia, France and China have seen as making inflammatory statements during the crisis, such as suggesting that Iraq might destroy Tel Aviv.

Mr Butler will have talks in the next two days over the inspection of eight Presidential sites during which his inspectors will be accompanied by diplomats. Before arriving in Baghdad, he said: ''Iraq has the opportunity ... to tell us everything that it can about its chemical and biological weapons ... if they give us the truth ... we can be finished with all of this.''