Saddam keeps UN guessing over access to palaces

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The Independent Online
Iraq continued its dance of unpredictability yesterday, refusing access to Saddam Hussein's palaces less than 24 hours after appearing to suggest that UN inspectors would be allowed in.

The Iraqi Foreign Minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, said the invitation was intended for international experts and diplomats, not UN inspectors.

In New York, it was announced that Iraq would not renew a deal on food- for-oil unless its grievances about the existing contract were met.

Mr al-Sahhaf said the invitation was "an Iraqi suggestion to have full and complete transparency with the world", in order to disprove a "wave of false allegations and lies" about Iraq's possession of banned weapons.

Before Iraq rejected the demands of the UN inspectors to gain access to President Saddam's 78 palaces, there had been a cautious welcome in Washington for the apparent olive branch that was offered on Wednesday night, when Iraq invited "representatives from all the countries represented in the UN Special Commission" to stay in the palaces "for a week or more".

Yesterday, however, Bill Clinton and the US leadership were branded as liars. Babel newspaper said: "The American Secretary of Defense William Cohen is not different from his president or the current US Secretary of State... They are all liars." Iraq's parliament called for UN sanctions to be lifted in six months. Saadoun Hammadi, parliamentary speaker, said Iraq had met all its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions, and insisted that "there are no banned weapons in Iraq".

In Moscow, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Iraq was taking a "constructive approach" to reducing tensions with the UN. The Communist Party leader, Gennady Zyuganov, said the Russian parliament and the Russian people would "continue to work for the lifting of the unfair embargo on the friendly Iraqi people".

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