Iraq says it won't allow new UN inspection team to visit

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The Independent Online

Iraq reiterated Wednesday that it won't permit a new U.N. weapons inspection team to enter the country, with its deputy prime minister saying it would stand firm even if threatened with force.

Iraq reiterated Wednesday that it won't permit a new U.N. weapons inspection team to enter the country, with its deputy prime minister saying it would stand firm even if threatened with force.

Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said Iraq had not changed its stand regarding a resolution that calls for the resumption of the stalled weapons inspections and promises Iraq a suspension of sanctions if it cooperates.

The head of the new inspection program, Hans Blix, has completed preparations for a restart of international effort to ensure Iraq has surrendered weapons of mass destruction and the ability to make and deploy them. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with Blix Tuesday and expressed full support for his activities.

Aziz said Iraq will not allow Blix or any of his inspectors to enter the country.

"I have said Iraq will not cooperate with resolution 1284. This means it will not receive Blix or any person related to this resolution," Aziz told reporters.

Blix is a former Swedish foreign minister who also served for many years as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The new program is called the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, known as UNMOVIC. It will replace UNSCOM, the inspection team that left Iraq in December 1998, shortly before the United States and Britain launched air strikes to punish Baghdad for allegedly failing to cooperate.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher has ruled out the use of force if Iraq rejects the commission. Boucher said Tuesday Iraq stands to benefit by cooperating. He said the United Nations won't lift its sanctions, imposed to punish Iraq for invading Kuwait in 1990, unless it does.

Aziz said threats and military action will not compel Iraq to change its stand.

"We have become accustomed to threats. Iraq is ready for all challenges," he said.

Aziz said Iraq sees nothing useful in the U.N. resolution under which Blix's commission was created. "It will be stupid of Iraq to accept it," he added.

Aziz gave a rosy picture of Iraq's standing in international politics, saying his government was more successful now in its diplomatic offensive than the United States.

He cited the recent visit to Iraq by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as an indication that Iraq's political isolation was coming to an end. Defying the United States, Chavez visited Iraq early this month, becoming the first head of state to call on President Saddam Hussein since the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait.

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