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Iraq blocks weapons inspectors, again

graphic November 6, 1997
Web posted at: 6:08 a.m. EST (1108 GMT)

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Talks between the Iraqi government and U.N. were extended for an extra day Thursday afternoon as the Iraqi government responded to allegations that it had interfered with weapons facilities.

Diplomatic sources told CNN earlier in the day that talks between the Iraqi government and U.N. envoys had not yielded positive results. They also expressed fears that that military action seemed likely unless the Iraqi position changes.

According to these sources, the Iraqis used the discussions to renew their grievances about the conduct of U.S. inspectors attached to the U.N. arms team, and had given no indication that Baghdad was prepared to comply in any way with what the Security Council is demanding.

After two sessions Wednesday, the talks resumed Thursday, the Iraqi news agency INA reported. The U.N. delegation is expected to hold a press briefing Thursday afternoon Baghdad time.

Inspectors blocked


As the talks resumed Thursday, Iraqi officials turned away three teams of weapons inspectors that included Americans from three different sites. Iraq last week announced it would expel all American inspectors, accusing them of spying.

A team of missile experts, including biological warfare and chemical weapons specialists, were blocked from entering three separate sites, according to U.N. weapons inspection program spokesman Alan Dacey. Dacey said the teams were told they could proceed only if the Americans left.

"Chiefs of inspection teams informed the Iraqi authorities that what they are doing is considered a clear violation of the (Gulf War) cease-fire agreements and they ordered their teams to return to their headquarters," Dacey said in a written statement.

The move comes one day after Richard Butler, the U.N.'s chief weapons inspector, accused the Iraqis of tampering with surveillance hardware and hiding equipment that could be used to make chemical or biological weapons. Butler said Thursday that inspection teams would check the sites where tampering is suspected.

In a letter to the U.N. Security Council Thursday, the Iraq's foreign minister said that the equipment was moved in anticipation of an "act of aggression" from the United States.

Under the cease-fire that ended the Gulf War in 1991, Iraq is required to submit to inspections to verify that it has destroyed its missiles and weapons of mass destruction. In recent weeks, Iraq's refusal to allow American inspectors access to weapons facilities has led to a standoff with the U.N.

Butler said he planned to send a team Thursday to inspect two of the facilities where cameras may have been tampered with "to establish the whereabouts of the ... equipment which has been moved."

Correspondents Ben Wedeman and Brent Sadler contributed to this report.


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