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Iraq gives way to UN demands

IRAQ pulled back from the brink of yet another confrontation with the world community yesterday by agreeing to allow UN weapons inspectors to monitor its long-term weapons development programme. Rolf Ekeus, who heads the UN Special Commission entrusted with enforcing Gulf war ceasefire resolutions and who is in Baghdad, declared after a session with Iraqi officials yesterday: 'We have come out of the vicious cycle (of threats and counter-threats).'

The row followed a now familiar pattern. UN weapons inspectors had sought to place surveillance cameras at two Iraqi missile sites, 45 miles south of Baghdad, Yawm al-Azim and al-Rafah. Iraq refused, claiming national sovereignty. Mr Ekeus was sent to Baghdad last Thursday after the UN warned of serious consequences if Iraq failed to comply with the demand. Finally, Iraq was obliged to back down.

Iraq broke the deadlock in a position paper which committed it to long-term UN monitoring of its weapons programme in return for a review of how far it had conformed to Gulf war ceasefire terms. The paper read: 'Iraq is ready to comply with the provisions of the plans for ongoing monitoring and verification as contained in Resolution 715.'

The various UN ceasefire resolutions require that Iraq dismantle its weapons of mass destruction - chemical, biological and nuclear - and the missiles by which they could be delivered. They also lay down procedures of verification and monitoring to ensure Iraq does not restart its weapons development programme.

Iraq insists that it has complied with UN Security Council Resolution 687, on the removal of its weapons of mass destruction. It argues that trade sanctions should be lifted.

Suggestions that agreement on weapons monitoring could lead to the relaxation on the ban on Iraq selling oil confuse two issues. Two years ago, Iraq was permitted to sell up to dollars 1.6bn (pounds 1bn) of oil under UN Security Council resolutions 706 and 712 to raise money for humanitarian needs such as food and medicines. But the money was to be disbursed by the UN: 30 per cent for a Gulf war compensation fund, some for the UN inspectors, and the rest for the equitable distribution of humanitarian assistance. These conditions were unacceptable to Iraq.

But the agreement to disagree suited both sides. The US-led coalition could say Iraq was blocking the provision of humanitarian assistance to its own people. Iraq could blame the West for preventing the raising of money to pay for food and medicine.