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G7 Summit: President rattles sabre at Baghdad

PRESIDENT Bill Clinton said yesterday the United Nations stand-off with Iraq over weapons inspectors was serious and raised the possibility of multilateral action against Baghdad, agencies report.

Speaking at a news conference following the Tokyo Group of Seven summit, Mr Clinton ruled out unilateral action such as the United States took recently in retaliation for an alleged Iraqi assassination attempt against the former US president, George Bush.

On Thursday Rolf Ekeus, chairman of the UN Special Commission in charge of scrapping Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, said inspectors would arrive in Iraq today to seal two missile test sites, thereby temporarily disabling its rockets. His announcement followed Monday's withdrawal of UN inspectors from Baghdad after they were prevented from installing cameras at the missile bases. The move is 'a face-saving method for Iraq,' Mr Ekeus said.

The UN, buying time, said on Thursday that ballistics experts would seal equipment at the sites. Mr Ekeus said the seals would remain until television cameras could be installed. He did not specify how the equipment was to be sealed, but indicated there would be no guards. UN inspectors have sealed other equipment in the past.

It was not clear whether Iraq would accept the sealing. In Baghdad, the government had no comment yesterday, and state-controlled news media made no mention of the UN plan.

'I think it is serious,' Mr Clinton said of the latest stand-off between Baghdad and the international community. Asked about the potential for a response, Mr Clinton said: 'The response should be a multilateral one.' He said the unilateral military strike launched by the US was appropriate because it involved an attempt on the former US president and was covered under international law.

Mr Clinton said, however, that Iraq's refusal to permit the weapons inspectors to operate is 'a violation of UN resolutions, and we are going to keep pushing on it'. He said he hoped Iraq would agree to the UN demands. If it did not, the President added, the US would take the issue back to the UN Security Council and pursue some kind of multilateral action which he did not specify.