Iraq gives UN list of foreign arms suppliers

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The Independent Online
AFTER eight days of talks with Saddam Hussein's henchmen, the UN diplomat charged with disarming Iraq yesterday secured a list of the foreign suppliers which helped Baghdad build up its nuclear and chemical weapons arsenal.

Rolf Ekeus, the head of the United Nations Commission charged with Iraqi implementation of the Gulf war ceasefire terms, said before leaving Baghdad yesterday with a copy of the list which the UN has been seeking for two and a half years: 'We have, as a matter of fact, last night received the answers of the Iraqi cabinet which has approved the release of data which we have requested.'

Mr Ekeus secured the list after holding twice-daily negotations since Saturday with an Iraqi team led by Tariq Aziz, Mr Saddam's Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr Ekeus told the Independent from Baghdad during the course of the talks he believed he had secured agreement 'on the substance' by Wednesday evening. What remained then was 'the formalities - including convincing the boss (Mr Saddam) to agree'.

Sources said that on Wednesday, the UN negotiators had stunned the Iraqis by bringing up the issue of a plutonium reactor which they knew the Iraqis to be hiding. It appears that the agreement of President Saddam himself was secured on Thursday night.

Iraq had earlier said it feared the list would fall into the hands of the CIA and endanger the suppliers. It had also demanded as a condition an immediate lifting of the oil embargo against Iraq. But Mr Ekeus has said he will not recommend lifting the oil embargo - which would provide Iraq with badly needed cash - until he has ensured long- term monitoring of Iraq's weapons programmes and a full account of its suppliers.

'I want to know where they have been coming from, so that we can stop them coming in future,' he told the Independent last week.

Until Mr Ekeus reports to the UN Security Council next week, there will be no indication of how complete the list he holds is.

But the handover indicates a new realisation on Iraq's part that it must be prepared to volunteer the information about suppliers rather than, as in its previous tactic, try to find out which suppliers and equipment the UN knows about and admit only to those.

Mr Ekeus, a veteran Swedish disarmament diplomat, has said he believes many suppliers of unconventional weapons facilities are companies in Western countries. 'Nearly every country has its Iraqgate, after all,' he said.

Yesterday, Iraqi officials said they had submitted the list after the UN commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which also attended the talks, 'signed a letter promising to use the information about the suppliers for technical ends and to keep it secret'.