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White House Denounces Latest Moves By Iraq To Block U.N. Weapons Inspectors

By Wolf Blitzer/CNN

WASHINGTON (Jan. 12) -- White House officials are denouncing Iraq's latest decision to prevent a United Nations weapons team headed by an American from inspecting sites in Iraq.

Officials suggest Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is once again testing the will of the international community, and vow the U.S. will not back down.

They say the U.S. currently has a "robust" military force in the region and does not need to beef up that presence, at least for now. They say the planes, ships, and troops dispatched to the region during the November crisis with Iraq will remain in place.

"If the reports are true," a White House official says, "this is a clear violation of the Security Council's demand that Iraq give UNSCOM full and unfettered access to all sites."

The official says it's not up to Saddam Hussein to determine the composition of the U.N. teams. "The U.N. decides who goes on these teams," says the official.

The official says the inspectors are professional scientsts or non-proliferation specialists. Iraq's complaint about the need to balance the nationalities of the inspectors, the official adds, is "irrelevant."

"Iraq ultimately cannot pick and choose who will inspect its weapons of mass destruction program," he adds.

As far as the next steps, officials expect the UNSCOM chairman, Richard Butler, will inform the U.N. Security Council of the Iraqi decision. The Security Council will then have to decide what course to pursue.

Butler is scheduled to leave this weekend for another visit to Iraq.

Earlier, he and his teams were denied permission to inspect presidential palaces suspected of hiding weapons of mass destruction. That sensitive matter has not been resolved either.

Privately, U.S. officials say the latest Iraqi action does not come as a surprise. The Iraqis have long accused the head of the current inspection team, Scott Ridder, of being a spy for the CIA, a charge he flatly denies.

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White House Denounces Iraq's Block Of U.N. Inspectors
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