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Hussein Denies U.S. Charges in Letter to the General Assembly

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Iraq does not have nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, despite Washington’s “noisy propaganda,” President Saddam Hussein said Thursday in a letter to the General Assembly, and he invited experts from any country at any time to visit Iraq and see for themselves.

Hussein’s comments, delivered by Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, came as President Bush asked Congress for authorization to use military force against Iraq, and while U.N. diplomats considered how to best prepare weapons inspectors to force Baghdad to disarm.

Reading Hussein’s letter, Sabri said Iraq wants a comprehensive solution to its 12-year confrontation with the United Nations to “bring to an end the cyclone of American accusations and fabricated crises against Iraq.”

While extending sympathy to the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, the letter accused Bush of shedding “crocodile tears” for Iraqi people suffering under U.N. sanctions. It charged that the U.S. president’s “lies, distortions and falsehoods” were leading the American people to believe that Iraq was now the world’s greatest threat.

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Bush is pushing war, the letter said, as “a fait accompli, as if it were the solution ... that would allow American citizens to live in security and stability after what they had gone through in the Sept. 11 events.” The speech received loud applause.

Despite inviting international experts to search for suspected weapons “without conditions,” Hussein appeared to throw up the first potential obstacle--and potential cause for invasion--by demanding respect for Iraq’s “sovereignty and security.” In the experience of previous inspection efforts, those terms have been interpreted to mean different treatment for “presidential sites,” wide swaths of territory surrounding Hussein’s numerous palaces. In 1998, the U.N. secretary-general and the Security Council agreed that those sites would be off limits to inspectors without Iraqi escorts.

British and American diplomats continued work on a resolution to be introduced early next week that, at the least, would strengthen the mandate of weapons inspectors. A new resolution would supersede earlier agreements involving the “presidential sites,” U.S. officials said.

A previously divided Security Council unanimously agreed that it would support a new resolution to grant inspectors the means they need to verify disarmament.

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“We all agree that disarmament is the key issue,” said Russian Ambassador Sergei V. Lavrov after a council meeting Thursday. “If there is a desire for a resolution, we can consider it.”

But Russia--one of five permanent Security Council members that hold veto power--is still resisting a U.S.-and British-backed resolution authorizing the use of force if Iraq doesn’t comply with a broad range of past U.N. resolutions addressing issues ranging from human rights to black-market trade.

France, another dissenter, may be willing to find a middle ground, diplomats said.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Thursday that a new resolution was not essential but “could be useful.” He reaffirmed France’s opposition to any resolution that would approve military action without first giving the inspectors time to do their work.

“There is a temptation in the United States toward a regime change at any costs,” De Villepin told Europe1 radio. “That is not the French position.”

One potential compromise would be to set a deadline for Iraq to comply with a dozen past U.N. resolutions, which if violated, would constitute “a material breach.”

If the U.N. invokes a material breach, the U.S. argues, it would provide grounds for an attack on Iraq and serve as a substitute for a direct authorization of military force, which many countries are reluctant to approve. Although the material breach maneuver would be questionable under the U.N. charter, the United States and Britain used a similar argument in 1998 to justify a punitive bombing raid on Baghdad after inspectors were blocked. The language would allow countries that are wavering to say that they never explicitly agreed to the use of force. British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock will meet with the 10 nonpermanent members of the council today to discuss such options and lobby for support of a tough new resolution.

Under pressure to act quickly, the 15-member Security Council met Thursday with the United Nations’ chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, to determine how soon inspectors could begin work and what they would need for support.

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Blix said an advance team could be on the ground by Oct. 15 and begin some preliminary inspections soon after, if a meeting with Iraqi counterparts in Vienna on Sept. 30 goes smoothly. Although Blix said last week that proper inspections were not something that can be rushed, Washington wants to compress a timeline set up in 1999 that gives the team 60 days to define “key remaining tasks” before getting approval from the Security Council to begin intrusive inspections.


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