Saddam's charm resisted

BAGHDAD - For the second time in two days, US warplanes have delivered a stinging rebuff to Iraq's attempt to woo the newly inaugurated President, Bill Clinton, with an attack on air defence sites in the northern no-fly zone. Iraq is likely to persist, however, in its offensive to charm the new incumbent of the White House, writes Charles Richards.

Senior policy-makers in Iraq stress that the ceasefire offer was not a tactical move but a strategic ploy to change the entire relationship with the United States. They are conscious that Mr Clinton is reviewing his foreign policy options.

President Saddam Hussein is endeavouring to portray the conflict as a personal one waged against him by George Bush. The Iraqi President had acted to prove good intent by permitting UN inspectors in again - which was legally sanctioned - and stopping provoking allied aircraft monitoring the no-fly zones in the north and south of the country.

In Washington, officials said they were still uncertain whether the continuing skirmishes meant Baghdad was retreating from its pledge of a ceasefire.

At the United Nations, however, the American ambassador, Edward Perkins, said that in all other respects Iraq appears to be pursuing the spirit of the ceasefire declaration made on the eve of President Clinton's inauguration.

'Baghdad is complying with the manifestations of the Security Council,' he said. 'If that's so, I hope that this will cool down the heat, so to speak.'