Under tight deadline, Iraq accepts U.N. resolution, return of inspectors

By EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press Writer

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Facing a tight deadline and the threat of war, Iraq accepted a tough, new U.N. resolution on Wednesday that will return weapons inspectors to the country after nearly four years. Iraq's U.N. ambassador said his country hadn't placed any conditions on the resolution's terms.

In a rambling nine-page acceptance letter to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri lambasted the United States and Britain, the cosponsors of the resolution, and called the U.N. action unjust and illegal. But he declared nonetheless that Baghdad would abide by the resolution, which the Security Council unanimously approved last Friday.

"We hereby inform you that we will deal with resolution 1441, despite its bad contents. The important thing is trying to spare our people from any harm," Sabri wrote. The letter went on to add that Iraq is: "prepared to receive the inspectors within the assigned timetable."

In Washington, President Bush said he wouldn't tolerate "deception or denial or deceit" from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and he renewed his warning that if Iraq "chooses not to disarm, we will have a coalition of the willing with us" to do the job.

It wasn't clear whether Bush was informed of the Iraqi decision as he addressed reporters in the Cabinet Room. A senior administration official said the White House was studying reports of the Iraqi move.

In Baghdad, state-run television announced Saddam's acceptance of the Security Council resolution two hours after Al-Douri told the rest of the world.

Iraqi TV showed images of Saddam, in a dark suit and tie, presiding over a meeting of his Revolutionary Command Council, made up of senior military officers. The picture was frozen on the screen while an announcer read the message recounting at length a history of Iraq's dispute with the United Nations.

In the letter, Sabri accused Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair of fabricating "the biggest and most wicked slander against Iraq" by claiming that it had or was on its way to producing nuclear weapons.

Under Security Council resolutions adopted after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, U.N. inspectors must certify that Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs have been eliminated along with the long-range missiles to deliver them. Only then can sanctions against Iraq be lifted.

Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri delivered the letter to Annan's office. "There are no conditions, no reservations," contained in the acceptance, he said.

The secretary-general was in the Washington area on Wednesday and planned to meet with Bush, who has repeatedly threatened Iraq with a U.S.-led war if it fails to comply with inspectors.

"They had no choice" but to accept, said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Iraqis need to give their full cooperation to the inspectors to bring about complete and verifiable disarmament. Nothing else will do."

Iraq's acceptance would clear the way for the arrival of an advance team of U.N. inspectors on Monday. The team will be led by chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix, who is in charge of biological and chemical inspections, and Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is in charge of nuclear inspections.

China's deputy U.N. ambassador Zhang Yishan, the current Security Council president, notified the 14 other council members of Iraq's acceptance.

"Members of the Security Council welcomed the correct decision by the Iraqi government and we would like to see resolution 1441 implemented fully and very effectively," he said. Iraq had until Friday to accept the resolution's terms.

The resolution allows inspectors to go anywhere at any time to search for weapons of mass destruction. It also warns that Iraq faces "serious consequences" if it doesn't comply -- and the United States has made clear that an Iraqi failure to cooperate will almost certainly mean a new war.

"Now, we are not talking about war or military action. We are talking about the mission of inspectors and how to make it a successful one," Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League, told CNN. The Arab League had been instrumental is getting Iraq to accept the unconditional return of inspectors and to secure its support for the resolution.

On Tuesday, Iraq's parliament recommended that Saddam reject the resolution. Saddam's son, Odai Saddam Hussein, proposed making Arabs part of the U.N. team, echoing a recommendation from the Arab League.

Blix's office said it has trained inspectors from 49 countries, including six Jordanians, one Moroccan and five Turks. "We don't get too many applications from Arabic countries and we would welcome more applications from people who have the right expertise," one official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

ElBaradei said the IAEA in the past had "many inspectors from many Arab countries" and this was not a problem.

In addition to offering Iraq "a final opportunity" to cooperate with inspectors, the resolution extends the possibility of lifting the sanctions.

But Iraq must comply with its strict timetable, which now gives Iraq until Dec. 8 to declare all its chemical, biological and nuclear programs. In the meantime, inspectors will have until Dec. 23 to begin their work and must report to the Security Council 60 days later. However, the resolution orders inspectors to immediately notify the council of any Iraqi infraction which could be considered a "material breach," of its obligations to disarm itself of weapons of mass destruction.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)