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U.N. aerial searches stalled

U.N. inspectors search the al-Magd company storehouse
U.N. inspectors search the al-Magd company storehouse

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.N. teams began their first searches of the new year amid objections from Iraq to planned aerial inspections of suspected weapons sites.

U.N. intelligence sources told CNN that helicopter surveys of Iraqi sites may have been delayed Wednesday for "technical reasons."

But the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said the matter had been the topic of discussion in a meeting between U.N. and Iraqi officials.

In a statement issued overnight, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry questioned the timing of a request for aerial searches.

"We are surprised at the timing of this request because it is the beginning of the year, an official holiday all over the world and for Iraqis of all religions," the statement said.

At least two inspection teams were working Wednesday -- one at a vehicle repair facility in western Baghdad and the other at a huge complex north of Baghdad that inspectors have searched more than once since beginning the latest round of inspections a month ago.

Inspectors focused on a part of the vast Al-Taji military complex that deals with missiles and maintenance of missile engines.

Also Wednesday, coalition aircraft struck an Iraqi air defense radar site southeast of Baghdad, the U.S. Central Command said.

The U.S. military said the strike -- against a site at Al Qurnah, about 130 miles southeast of the capital -- was a response to "Iraqi threats against coalition aircraft."

There was no immediate response from the Iraqis.

Meanwhile, Iraq's daily Babel newspaper -- owned by Iraq's President Saddam Hussein's eldest son Uday -- suggested that Iraqis might be better served by imitating North Korea where inspections are concerned.

Babel said the North Korean move to restart its nuclear programs and expel U.N. monitors was "courageous" and that such a move might force the "U.S.-Zionist crusade" to respect Iraq.

Peace activists demonstrate against economic sanctions as U.N. inspectors head out Wednesday
Peace activists demonstrate against economic sanctions as U.N. inspectors head out Wednesday

U.S. President George W. Bush, celebrating the New Year at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, said U.S. policy toward Iraq was fundamentally different from its policy toward North Korea and that Iraqi cries of a double standard were invalid.

"The international community, particularly those countries close to North Korea, understand the stakes involved," Bush said. "This is not a military showdown. This is a diplomatic showdown."

He accused Saddam of having been close to developing a nuclear weapon in the 1990s and continuing those efforts now.

"We don't know whether or not he has a nuclear weapon," Bush added.

"We do expect him to disarm his weapons of mass destruction. The international community has been trying to resolve the situation in Iraq through diplomacy for 11 years. And for 11 years, Saddam Hussein has defied the international community."

Still, Bush said his New Year's resolution was to resolve the conflict peacefully.

In response to a reporter's question suggesting that a possible war with Iraq may be looming, Bush bristled, "I hope we're not headed to war in Iraq. I'm the person who gets to decide, not you. I hope this can be done peacefully."

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