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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Surveillance Flights to Proceed in Iraq

UNITED NATIONS -- Despite an Iraqi threat to shoot down U.S. spy planes, the United Nations says its international disarmament experts will proceed with arms inspections and surveillance flights.


Iraq reacted Tuesday by turning back UN weapons inspectors for a second day, saying it would not grant access to any teams that included Americans. They were to be expelled by 5 p.m. New York time Wednesday.


Secretary-General Kofi Annan planned to telephone Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz on Tuesday to ask Baghdad to postpone the deadline until UN emissaries finish their talks in the Iraqi capital.


The envoys -- from Algeria, Argentina and Sweden -- are en route to Iraq. But it remains uncertain whether the diplomats will manage to defuse the crisis between Iraq and the United Nations.


Annan told reporters the diplomats will "discuss with the Iraqi authorities the need for them to rescind the decision they have taken so that we do not create unnecessary escalation."


Those inspectors are trying to determine if Iraq has destroyed all weapons of mass destruction. That was a condition for ending the 1991 Persian Gulf War and for lifting economic sanctions imposed the previous year when Saddam invaded Kuwait.


In the meantime, chief UN weapons inspector Richard Butler said it would be business as usual for the inspectors in Iraq. On Monday, the Iraqis refused to allow a U.S. inspector to enter a suspected weapons storage site.


Butler also said a U.S. U-2 surveillance flight scheduled for Wednesday "is authorized to go ahead."


In a letter to Butler on Sunday, Iraq's UN ambassador, Nizar Hamdoon, noted that Iraqi air defense units were on alert for possible U.S. air strikes. Hamdoon asked Butler to call off U.S. surveillance flights set for Wednesday and Friday.


U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, said that seemed a clear threat to fire on U.S. planes, which fly surveillance missions for the United Nations. Whether Iraqi weapons can even reach the high-flying aircraft is uncertain, but U.S. authorities still expressed outrage.


But the mission appeared in doubt from the start. Annan and U.S. officials insisted they would not negotiate terms for the inspections and would simply tell the Iraqis to abide by Security Council decisions.


Hamdoon said the mission would open a "dialogue" on Iraqi accusations that the Americans are dragging their feet on lifting of UN sanctions by refusing to certify that Iraq had destroyed all its banned weapons.