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Iraq threatens to shoot down U.S. surveillance planes

U.N. Security Council November 3, 1997
Web posted at: 3:04 p.m. EST (2004 GMT)

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- The U.N. Security Council was due to meet at 5 p.m. Monday for closed door talks on how to resolve the increasingly tense standoff with Iraq, which has threatened to shoot down U.S. surveillance planes as part of its ban on U.S. weapons inspectors.

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson responded by saying that "we consider that irresponsible and unacceptable, and a direct aggressive act against the U.N."

Iraqi ambassador to the U.N. Nizar Hamdoon said in a letter to the U.N. that Iraq expects "military aggression" against it by the United States.

"Therefore the entry of an American spy plane into Iraq's skies cannot be accepted. We, therefore demand you to cancel the U-2 flights scheduled for November 5 and 7, 1997," the letter stated.

Bill Richardson
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson describes Iraq's warning

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The U-2 reconnaissance planes fly at an altitude of about 60,000 feet, within range of Iraqi missiles. The next scheduled flyover is set for Thursday. The U.S. military was reportedly considering whether to send up fighter planes to protect the U-2 aircraft.

"The U.N. Security Council should be prepared to take firm action to bring about Iraqi compliance in the event they don't change their mind in the next day or so," U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said in a briefing.

"Saddam Hussein should change his mind and allow the U.N. to do its job," Rubin said.

A L S O :

U.N. negotiation team heads for Baghdad

Iraq says the surveillance missions serve U.S. intelligence, and Baghdad has repeatedly called for the U-2 flights to be halted. Iraq repeated that demand on Wednesday, when it ordered all U.S. members serving on U.N. weapons inspections teams to leave the country within a week.

The United States has 20,000 troops, 200 planes and 17 ships in the region.

U.N. Correspondent Richard Roth and Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.


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