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U-2 jet flies safely over Iraq

U2 November 10, 1997
Web posted at: 2:11 a.m. EST (0711 GMT)

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A U-2 surveillance plane flew over Iraq early Monday despite an Iraqi threat to shoot it down. But Iraqi officials said the plane flew "too high for Iraqi air defenses to do anything about it."

The U-2 flies at an altitude of 70,000 feet (21,300 meters).

U.S. National Security Advisor Sandy Berger phoned Congressional leaders to tell them the flights had resumed, that the plane lifted off at 6:30 a.m. (0330 GMT/10:30 EST Sunday) and that jet fighters in the area have orders to respond if it is fired upon, Congressional sources said.

The jet returned safely to Saudi Arabia about 5 hours later, an Iraqi defense spokesman told Baghdad radio.

Iraqi officials have said they are prepared to shoot down any surveillance plane that enters Iraqi airspace, an act almost certain to provoke a military response.

"We will not tolerate (Hussein's) efforts to murder our pilots acting on behalf of the United Nations," U.S. President Bill Clinton said Sunday during an American television interview.

Saddam Hussein

But Hussein, in a statement read on Iraqi TV Sunday, said, "Iraq has been put in a situation in which it has to choose between a life with dignity and honor, or confrontation of all possibilities."

The Iraqi leader, who was seen on TV meeting with his military commanders, wants the United Nations to set a timetable for lifting economic sanctions against Iraq imposed after the Persian Gulf war.

Indications in Baghdad were that Hussein wants to stand firm in his latest confrontation with the United Nations as a way to press for answers about when sanctions and U.N. weapons inspections will finally end.

A L S O :

Clinton, lieutenants take tough line on Iraq

Annan hears from envoys

At U.N. headquarters in New York Sunday, Secretary General Kofi Annan met with three envoys that he had sent to Iraq. They tried to get Iraqi officials to back down on their insistence that Americans be removed from U.N. weapons inspection teams operating inside Iraq, but Hussein's regime was unmoved.

"They seemed to have made up their minds even before we arrived," said Emilio Cardenas, one of the envoys.

On Monday, the U.N. Security Council is expected to take up the dispute over weapons inspections.

Clinton said he wanted the United Nations to take "very strong and unambiguous" action to force Iraq to allow weapons inspections to proceed.

Iraq accuses the U.S. members of the inspection teams of deliberately delaying the monitoring process in order to hold up the lifting of international sanctions.

The United Nations says it won't lift the sanctions, which include an oil embargo, until Iraq has cooperated fully with the inspectors.

Americans blocked from inspections Sunday

Iraqi officials have blocked Americans from participating in the inspections for seven consecutive days, including Sunday. In each case, the United Nations has responded by canceling that day's inspections.

UN inspections

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz was to arrive in New York to personally take Iraq's case to the United Nations Monday.

"We are in a dark tunnel. There is no end in sight. There will be no retreat by Iraq unless changes are made," Aziz told CNN, referring to what Iraq considers an anti-Iraq bias in the makeup of the inspection teams.

British PM backs American hard line

On Sunday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed his support for the hard-line stance against Iraq advocated by Clinton.

Blair's office said the British prime minister had written a letter of support telling the U.S. president that Blair has "no doubt that as in the past we must stand absolutely firm and absolutely together."

Observers say that the Security Council may decide to impose a travel ban on Iraqi officials or introduce tighter restrictions on Iraq's ability to import equipment with a dual civilian-military use.

The current standoff between Iraq and the United Nations began October 29 when Iraq announced that it would bar Americans from U.N. inspection teams, which have been in Iraq since the end of the Gulf war looking for evidence of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons or missiles.

Iraqi officials have complained that the teams contain too many Americans, and have demanded a more balanced representation among the permanent members of the Security Council, which include the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia.

Iraq and Russian, French and Chinese companies have reportedly negotiated major oil agreements which are to take effect once international sanctions are lifted.

Correspondents Brent Sadler, Peter Arnett and Richard Roth and Reuters contributed to this report.


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