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World - Middle East

U.S. reacts sternly to Iraq's rebuff of inspectors

U.N. inspectors in Baghdad  

In this story:

December 9, 1998
Web posted at: 6:43 p.m. EST (2343 GMT)

(CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reiterated threats of military strikes after Iraqi officials blocked a U.N. weapons inspection Wednesday.

"There is no more diplomacy to be done," Albright told EuroNews, a French television channel. "There will be no comprehensive review (of economic sanctions) if (Iraqis) are not cooperating.... The use of force is an option that is on the table."

On Wednesday, United Nations' chief weapons inspector Richard Butler confirmed that inspectors were denied access when they tried to inspect the Baghdad headquarters of Iraq's ruling Baath Party.

"This was an absolutely legal no-notice inspection, and they blocked us," Butler told The Associated Press. "It was a blockage, and it was wrong."

However, through a U.N. spokesman, Butler later said he "won't make an assessment of overall Iraqi compliance on the basis of a single incident."

Iraqi minister admits an error

In Baghdad, Iraqi Oil Minister Amer Rasheed conceded that the decision to bar the inspection teams was a mistake. He said an Iraqi monitor accompanying the team thought the party offices were a "sensitive" site, and the monitor limited the number of inspectors who could go inside to four. Iraqi officials also asked for a list of materials sought by the inspection team

In response, all the inspectors left without searching the building.

Under ground rules between the United Nations and Iraq, inspections can be limited at sites Iraq terms sensitive, such as areas housing Iraqi security. But Rasheed later said the site was not sensitive.

However, he said the weapons inspectors also have not been adhering to the ground rules and appeared to be trying to provoke a crisis.

"Unless this is resolved, there will be potential for crises, confrontation and problems," he said.

Butler to brief Security Council next week

Iraq had halted its cooperation with the United Nations in late October but, amid threats of military action, agreed in November to let inspectors return to work.

Surprise inspections of suspected Iraqi weapons sites resumed Tuesday. Butler said they would continue through the end of the week.

Meanwhile, Iraqi newspapers renewed complaints that the inspections were not leading to a lifting of U.N. sanctions imposed after Iraq's August 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Butler is scheduled to report to the U.N. Security Council next week on Iraq's overall compliance. Based on that, the council will decide whether to review the sanctions.

Correspondent James Martone and Reuters contributed to this report.

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