The acrimonious departure of Richard Butler, chief United Nations weapons inspector, from talks with Iraq's deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz raised the spectre of another game of diplomatic brinkmanship.
Mr Butler is due to arrive in London early today en route for New York after abruptly cutting short his visit to Baghdad on Tuesday. He is expected to address the UN in New York tomorrow.
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook backed Mr Butler's decision to leave after the breakdown of talks on getting rid of Baghdad's prohibited weapons failed to make any progress.
Mr Butler, the Australian head of the UN Special Commission (Unscom) set up in 1991 to eliminate Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, refused demands from Mr Aziz that his country be declared "clean".
Instead, he presented Mr Aziz with a new schedule of inspections of suspected illicit sites and a demand for documentary proof that all weapons programmes are at an end.
Mr Cook, speaking on BBC television news last night, said the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein would have to give way over UN weapons inspections.
He said "There's a lot of alarming evidence that Saddam Hussein continues to deceive the rest of the world. He's been caught out putting a nerve gas into weapons, he's been caught out concealing a large number of chemical weapons he should have declared.
"We are not going to give in until the job is finished and we are sure he has no weapons of mass destruction."
He said that in the last two months UNSCOM had confirmed, despite official denials, that Iraq had developed VX nerve gas weapons and had also uncovered new evidence showing that more than 4,000 chemical weapons were unaccounted for. A White House spokesman, said a military option remained "absolutely" open on dealing with Iraq but cautioned against jumping to conclusions.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday it would monitor the situation in Iraq. He said: "The entire world is worried about this question. We, like everyone else, are watching this thing carefully and we know what to do."
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