Iraq ignores UN deadline

BAGHDAD - Iraq categorically refused to allow UN weapons inspectors to search its Agriculture Ministry yesterday, despite a United Nations deadline and last- ditch talks aimed at ending the deadlock.

The Agriculture Minister, Abdel Wahab Mahmood al-Sabagh, said Iraq would not authorise the search of a 'civilian ministry which has nothing to do with the United Nations and its resolutions'. He accused the UN of being a tool of the United States and said that the 'Bush administration is using international terrorism against Iraq'.

A team of 16 weapons inspectors has maintained a round-the- clock vigil outside the Agriculture Ministry since Sunday morning.

UN and Iraqi officials were to have a second round of talks yesterday aimed at ending the standoff, Iraqi sources said. An apparently fruitless first round was held late on Wednesday between Douglas Englund, regional head of the UN Special Commission overseeing the destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and Hossam Mohammad Amin, the Iraqi who accompanies the weapons inspectors on their missions. No details were given of the hour-long meeting.

Rolf Ekeus, the commission's head, set yesterday as the deadline for Baghdad to allow the search to go ahead. He said at UN headquarters in New York that Mr Englund had been instructed not to negotiate, given that under Security Council resolutions Baghdad was bound to allow access to any place designated by the inspection commission.

The inspection team suspects the ministry contains data on ballistic missiles capable of delivering chemical and nuclear payloads, and details on Iraq's foreign suppliers. Baghdad has defied two UN Security Council calls demanding access. It says the search would violate its sovereignty.

Mr Ekeus warned that it would be 'a very serious mistake by Iraq not to open up the building after these talks' in Baghdad. Iraq's attitude was 'a challenge to the authority of the Security Council', he added, and he was expecting a positive response from Iraq by yesterday.

NEW YORK - A plot to assassinate President Saddam Hussein of Iraq was thwarted by his security guards when they learned that a planned motorcade through Baghdad would be ambushed by coup plotters, the New York Times reported yesterday. Quoting a US intelligence report, the newspaper said four officers of the Republican Guard who had plotted to kill the President on 29 June were ambushed by his agents, Reuter reports.