Saddam's honesty on weapons sites to be put to test

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The Independent Online
THE SINCERITY of Iraq's commitment to the new agreement on opening presidential palaces to inspections by United Nations weapons inspectors that for now has averted American and British military action in the Gulf could be tested as early as this week.

Richard Butler, the chairman of Unscom, the Special Commission charged with dismantling Iraq's weapons programmes, yesterday said he was "just about to ready" to begin implementation of the pact that was negotiated by Secretary General Kofi Annan on a make-or-break mission to Iraq a week ago.

The United States has served notice that it wants the agreement tested as soon as possible. To do so, Mr Butler will only need to order an inspection of at least one of the eight presidential complexes that are at the heart of the deal with Iraq.

Under the provisions of the agreement, which has come under searing attack in the US Congress, inspectors from Unscom will be accompanied into the palaces by diplomats acting as observers.

In New York this morning, meanwhile, the UN Security Council will attempt to resolve diplomatic differences between the five permanent members on a formal resolution that would give legal and diplomatic endorsement to Mr Annan's deal. An initial version of a text drafted by Britain, which warned Iraq it would face the "severest consequences" if it reneged on the new agreement, has already been watered down. The latest text says instead that Iraq would face "very severe consequences".

Behind the seemingly petty squabbling in the Council, lie fundamental differences of view on how to handle Iraq. While the US and Britain are unrelenting in taking the toughest possible stance against Saddam Hussein, France, Russia and China are at every turn more flexible.

Specifically on this resolution, the latter three do not want wording that would open the door to automatic military action against Iraq were it to be found in violation of the Annan agreement. Any such action, they say, should be preceded by further consultations in the Council.

Asked by journalists yesterday about his progress on finalising arrangements for adding diplomatic chaperones to the regular Unscom teams, Mr Butler replied: "We are at work on that, and we are just about ready." He insisted that while diplomats would join inspection teams, the "hard edge' would remain the scientific and technical experts.

An opinion poll to be published today by Newsweek magazine shows broad approval among Americans of the deal struck with Iraq; 55 per cent said they considered the Annan deal "worth it". Even so, 61 per cent expressed the view that the agreement will not work in the long run.

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