Back at the UN, returning chief gets a hero's welcome

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ON A DAY of rare euphoria at United Nations headquarters, the Security Council yesterday offered a preliminary endorsement of the agreement negotiated by the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, with Iraq on weapons inspections and averting military action by Britain and the United States.

"We believe that this agreement is a step in the right direction," the US Ambassador to the UN, Bill Richardson, remarked after a two-hour meeting of the Security Council with Mr Annan. Mr Richardson added, however, that Washington would still be seeking clarification on portions of the agreement.

Mr Richardson insisted also that the value of the deal guaranteeing access by UN inspectors to presidential sites would be clear only after it was put to the test. "We want to see clarification and verification. We want to see it implemented, complied with and enforced."

Mr Annan voiced confidence that once all clarifications are given, he will have "strong and unanimous Council support" for the agreement. Noting that it is the first such pact to have been negotiated with Saddam Hussein himself, he also expressed optimism that it would be honoured by Iraq.

Before briefing the Council on his Baghdad mission, Mr Annan was treated to a stirring hero's welcome in the main foyer of the UN building where hundreds of staff had gathered to greet and to applaud him. A beaming Mr Annan declared: "This is a wonderful example of what the United Nations should be". He paid fulsome tribute to London and Washington: "I will start by thanking President Clinton and Prime Minister Blair for being perfect UN peacekeepers . . . in the sense that we taught our peacekeepers the best way to use force is to show it in order not to use it."

While stressing the need to see it tested, the British Ambassador, Sir John Weston, welcomed the Annan package. He said that the Council will begin work today on a new resolution to reinforce the agreement that "ought to allow us to put our relationship with Iraq on a more secure footing".

The clarification sought by Washington pertains in part to the language used in the agreement, notably a paragraph stressing that the inspectors "respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq". Mr Richardson said: "Our concern is Saddam Hussein, whether he will find loopholes in any of the language".

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