West determined to get Iraqi compliance

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The Independent Online
Robin Cook yesterday refused to rule out the use of military force against Saddam Hussein. Iraq is demanding that the UN inspectors abandon their work for the next three months. Gidon Freeman reports.

Speaking during an official visit to Hong Kong, the Foreign Secretary said that in dealing with the Iraqi president, "no option is ruled out". Mr Cook was asked if recent developments, such as the departure from Iraq last weekend of the latest inspection team, made military intervention more likely. He replied: "We've always made it clear what we are demanding from Iraq ... He [Hussein] must put an end to his ambitions to make weapons of mass destruction."

In the House of Commons, Prime Minister Tony Blair supported the Foreign Secretary. Asked about the current crisis during Prime Minister's questions, he said: "Saddam Hussein should be allowing the inspectors in. It's not for him to dictate the terms of this inspection." Mr Blair denied that a "macho battle" was in progress, saying instead that Saddam had to be "prevented from developing weapons of mass destruction".

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, asked Richard Butler, the head of the United Nations Special Commission (Unscom) whose job it is to investigate Iraq's military machine, to freeze inspections on 45 "presidential sites" until the inspectors could produce a positive report on Iraq's disarmament intentions.

Mr Aziz said he was not even prepared to discuss further Unscom missions until April. Mr Butler said this "flies in the face" of UN resolutions and security council demands.

Earlier this week, it was agreed that "technical evaluation meetings" would take place, ahead of further inspections by Unscom. The talks will include for the first time states such as Germany that are not permanent members of the UN Security Council. They are to start on 1 February. Experts on all areas of chemical, biological and nuclear weaponry will take part.

In response to Iraq's request for immunity for presidential sites, Mr Cook said "this strains credulity".

"We cannot allow him to decide where the inspectors can go. With every passing day Saddam Hussein continues to expand his arsenal of biological and chemical weapons. Every week he is creating enough anthrax to fill two missile warheads."

Mr Cook's stern words were matched by US Defense Secretary William Cohen. Speaking to sailors aboard the Gulf-bound aircraft carrier USS Independence, he said the US was "still seeking a diplomatic solution to the latest crisis ... but we are determined to make sure that Iraq is not going to have the capacity to threaten its neighbours, or any of the countries in that region."

Other states joined in the furore over the inspections. The Russian Foreign Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, said the make-up of the inspection teams should be more balanced between different countries, but added that Russia "categorically objected" when US inspectors were barred from discharging their duties.

The Chinese Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, said he wanted the UN to speed up its inspections and that the teams are too heavily composed of US nationals.

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