Baghdad, 4 November 1997 (RFE/RL) - France and Russia are urging Iraq to comply with UN Security Council resolutions and allow U.S. arms inspectors to enter the country. In a statement issued today in Paris, the two Security Council members said it was unacceptable for Iraq to bar Americans who are working with a UN special commission charged with dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
They called on Iraq to resume its cooperation with UN teams as a clear sign it wanted to reduce tension.
Iraq has banned U.S. arms experts from UN teams and threatened to shoot down U-2 spy planes in a bid to force the world body to ease sanctions imposed after the Gulf War. Iraqi officials have said they will expell all U.S. inspectors by tomorrow evening.
Earlier today, a senior Russian foreign ministry official, Gennady Tarasov, said his ministry had spoken with a member of the Iraqi leadership, but he refused to reveal what was discussed or provide any other details.
Russian government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov told a briefing today in Moscow that Iraq's refusal to allow the UN mission to carry out inspections yesterday and today was "inadequate and unacceptable."
Meanwhile, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern and Near Eastern Affairs, Martin Indyk, called on the Security Council to take "firm action." Indyk, who was in Doha for talks on the Iraqi crisis, said that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein must understand he has no alternative but to comply.
Indyk said that military action had not been ruled out, but that the U.S. would first support the efforts of a UN negotiating team currently enroute to Iraq. The team is expected to start talks tomorrow to end the stand-off.
Earlier today, British defense secretary George Robertson, flying to Moscow for talks with Russian officials, would not rule out use of force against Iraq. But Robertson said diplomatic pressure was still the preferred option.
Alan Dacey, special assistant to the director of the UN Baghdad Monitoring and Verification center, said Iraqi officials told inspectors with three separate monitoring teams that they could carry on their work, but without their U.S. colleagues. Dacey said that under such circumstances, in accordance with the director's instructions, the chief inspectors withdrew and returned to the UN special commission monitoring center in Baghdad. The incident was reported to have taken place in a "calm" fashion.
Dacey also said U.S. U-2 spy planes continued flying over Iraq, despite an earlier Iraqi threat that the planes would be shot down.
Meanwhile, a three-man special UN mission is due to arrive in Baghdad tomorrow to try and defuse the crisis. Wide-ranging UN sanctions imposed on Baghdad after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait cannot be eased until inspectors certify all dangerous arms have been eliminated.
Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) cannot say if Iraq has fully scrapped its nuclear arms program.
IAEA director Hans Blix said his Vienna-based agency was sure Iraq had no remaining infrastructure for nuclear weapons production after six years of on-site inspections. But Blix added he was certain engineers, scientists and computer programmers are still there.
Blix told diplomats and officials meeting at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris that he could not yet say "mission accomplished."
Under the UN Security Council's 1991 Gulf war resolutions, the IAEA is responsible for scrapping Iraq's nuclear weapons capabilities and ensuring it does not reacquire them. A New York-based U.N. special commission (UNSCOM) performs a similar task for Iraq's chemical, biological and ballistic missiles programs.