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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iraq Agrees to Admit Arms Inspectors

UNITED NATIONS -- Under the threat of U.S. military action and pressured by Arab states, Iraq has agreed to unconditionally admit UN weapons inspectors without conditions.

But the United States expressed skepticism about Baghdad's willingness to allow a real search for weapons of mass destruction.

Other nations on Tuesday cautiously welcomed the Iraqi about-face. Russia and China, which hold veto power on the UN Security Council, said it was a victory for concerted international efforts.

"Russia has been consistently working for the return of international inspectors to Iraq and now our main task is to ensure that the inspectors can get to Iraq as soon as possible and start their work," Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters.

"It's principally important that today, through our joint efforts, we have managed to put aside the threat of a war scenario around Iraq and return the process to a political channel," he said.

In his letter to Secretary-General Kofi Annan accepting the return of inspectors "without conditions," Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said it was "ready to discuss the practical arrangements necessary for the immediate resumption of inspections."

Hans Blix, the chief inspector in charge of dismantling Iraq's potential nuclear weapons program, and its biological and chemical weapons and the long-range missiles to launch them, said in his latest report earlier this month that there were a list of issues that needed to be resolved before inspections resume.

These include use of the previous inspection agency's Baghdad headquarters, support for the inspectors, possible new offices in Basra and Mosul, the provision of minders, installation and monitoring of equipment, travel to and from Iraq for inspectors, accommodations for short-term and long-term staff, landing landing sites for both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters and overflights in Iraq.

In Baghdad, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said weapons inspectors should finish their work "within a reasonable time" to bring the lifting of sanctions. Aziz said the United States may still be looking for a reason to attack Iraq. "If the inspectors come and act honestly, professionally ... they can reach the truth within a reasonable time. But if the Americans are using this as a pretext, they might use some other way in order to commit an aggression against Iraq," Aziz said.

Earlier, he said Washington's goal was to dominate oil in the Gulf region.

For the United States, disarmament in Iraq is contingent on removing Saddam, who invaded neighboring Kuwait in 1990 and lobbed scud missiles at Saudi Arabia and Israel months later during the Gulf War. The Bush administration said last week that Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials used to make atomic bombs.

Aziz called on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to monitor inspectors closely to ensure they do not overstep their mission. He said Iraq hoped the return of inspectors "will lead as soon as possible to the lifting of sanctions and normalizing the situation."

The issue was likely to be on the minds of all 15 Security Council members when they attended a previously scheduled meeting Tuesday on Burundi. But council diplomats said late Tuesday morning that Iraq had not yet been put on the agenda. For the council, the main goal over the past four years has been getting inspectors back inside Iraq to curb Saddam Hussein's chances of procuring weapons.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday that he will seek a new UN Security Council resolution spelling out the steps Iraq needs to take to meet 11-year old UN demands.

"We will press for a resolution. If they [the Iraqis] are serious, they will want one," Powell said during a photo session with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

But Ivanov appeared opposed to that. "The deployment of international inspectors in Iraq doesn't require a special UN Security Council resolution," he said. He said there was a tough road ahead, since the inspectors would face "very difficult, great and laborious work," and he pledged that Russia would continue to work hard to settle the crisis.

A statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry added that Iraq's move "opens the way to the lifting of sanctions in effect on Iraq."

Washington quickly dismissed Iraq's offer as a tactic meant to split the Security Council, where the Bush administration has been lobbying hard for a resolution that would authorize force against Iraq if it failed to let the inspectors return. "This is not a matter of inspections. It is about disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and the Iraqi regime's compliance with all other Security Council resolutions," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

France, another permanent member of the Security Council, said the UN should act quickly to test Iraq's motives. "This will, of course, be discussed in the coming days at the Security Council, but we must not lose time -- act quickly, send in the inspectors," said a French Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Britain, however, questioned Saddam's motives. "This apparent offer is bound to be treated with a high degree of skepticism by the international community," Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said.