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Fearing attack, Iraq hides military equipment

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No imminent U.S. military action likely

Latest developments: November 6, 1997
Web posted at: 12:05 p.m. EST (1705 GMT)

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq turned back U.N. weapons inspection teams with American members for the fourth straight day Thursday and admitted it had moved equipment at suspected arms sites to protect it from possible American air strikes. But Saddam Hussein's government denied it had tampered with surveillance equipment.

Thursday's developments came as U.N. envoys resumed meetings with Baghdad officials about Iraq's defiance of terms that led to the 1991 Gulf War cease-fire. The talks have been "complicated and arduous," but it was too early to conclude that they had failed, a source told CNN.

Iraq denies obstruction charge

CNN's Richard Roth interviewed Richard Butler, chairman of the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq
icon 7 min. VXtreme video

Richard Butler, head of the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM), in charge of ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, charges Iraq has obstructed monitoring equipment, apparently taking advantage of the halt in inspections. (icon 281K/25 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Responding in a letter to the U.N. Security Council, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf denied Iraq had caused obstructions but acknowledged equipment had been moved.

He wrote that Iraq was preparing for what it called U.S.-led military aggression and wanted the machinery out of harm's way. Speaking to reporters, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz added, "We expect them to attack us with warplanes and missiles. It's only natural to safeguard our equipment."

Aziz also accused Butler of making "a deliberate attempt to blackmail the (U.N.) Security Council and escalate the situation." In a live interview with CNN, Butler called the allegation "ludicrous." (icon 272K/24 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

In his letter, Al-Sahaf also said that one surveillance camera was damaged Wednesday during an explosion while two engines from short-range missiles were being tested. Short-range missiles are not banned in Iraq by the United Nations.

icon Correspondent Brent Sadler reports from Baghdad
Interference with U.N. surveillance cameras
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(238 K / 21 sec. audio)

Letter gives reasons for moving equipment
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(323 K / 26 sec. audio)

Iraq: Inspectors welcome, but not Americans
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(255 K / 22 sec. audio)

The foreign minister described the movement of equipment as temporary and said it would not be used in any prohibited way. "We are going to put the equipment back to its previous positions...and we will invite U.N. monitoring teams to see it and be sure about it," Al-Sahaf said.

Pentagon: no imminent military strike

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Citing the lack of progress in talks between U.N. envoys and Iraqi officials, diplomatic sources told CNN they feared military action seemed likely unless the Iraqi position changes.

Pentagon officials acknowledged that the threat of military strikes against Iraq is real, but there were no indications that the United States and it allies were making preparations to attack Iraq in the immediate future.

As if to signal that, Pentagon sources said the U.S. aircraft carrier Nimitz and another warship, the USS Port Royal, may proceed with a previously scheduled port call in the United Arab Emirates beginning this weekend. However, other Pentagon officials believe a port call would send a signal of weakness to Iraq.

The positioning puts the vessels farther away from Iraq. However, a half-dozen Tomahawk-equipped U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf remain within striking distance of Iraq.

U.S. military officials repeatedly have said the United States would seek an international consensus to respond to Iraq's defiance. "The United Nations has a series of things it could recommend," including additional economic sanctions or a military response, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said in Washington.

Inspectors blocked

With tensions increasing, three U.N. inspection teams -- one specializing in missiles, another in biological warfare and the third in chemical weapons -- went to three sites on Thursday. But when they arrived, Iraqi officials told them they could only conduct their work without Americans, a UNSCOM spokesman said.

All the inspectors turned back after the team chiefs "informed the Iraqi authorities that what they are doing is considered a clear violation of the cease-fire agreements," the spokesman said.

If the Security Council were to declare Iraq in "material breach" of the cease-fire, it could pave the way for military action.

Correspondents Richard Roth, Ben Wedeman, Brent Sadler and Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.

 
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