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Iraq: U.N. Inspectors Return To Baghdad

Baghdad, 21 November 1997 (RFE/RL) - U.N. weapons inspectors returned to Baghdad today to resume arms inspections after a three-week standoff with Iraq.

A team of about 70 inspectors, including six Americans, flew in from Bahrain on a charter jet.

Major General Nils Carlstrom, the Swede who heads the Baghdad monitoring office, said the inspections are to be resumed as soon as possible.

The latest development followed yesterday's decision by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to allow U.S. arms inspectors back into the country. Iraq says it reversed its ban on the Americans following Russia's assurance that it will work for the lifting of U.N. economic sanctions on the country.

The inspectors were barred from visiting suspected arms sites 10 of the 11 days prior to their departure.

The dismantling of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, being monitored by the United Nations Special Commission, was halted when Iraq ordered the expulsion of its six American members on Octpber 29. The order was carried out November 13, and the other 68 non-American inspectors were withdrawn in protest.

The United States, meanwhile, is pressing ahead with plans to boost its air power in the region. It has sent a second aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington, to the Gulf along with an expeditionary air force of fighters and bombers.

U.S. officials said the George Washington steamed into the Gulf overnight, while six radar-evading Stealth F-117 fighters touched down in Kuwait early today. The U.S. has also ordered 36 combat planes to Bahrain and B-52 bombers to the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.

Earlier today, U.S. officials said Iraq's decision to permit United Nations weapons inspectors to perform their work in Iraq does not mean that the U.N. Security Council granted concessions to Hussein.

White House National Security Adviser Samuel Berger told reporters today that Iraq must comply, unconditionally, with U.N. resolutions that require international inspections to ensure Iraq is eliminating its weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq agreement to allow the inspection teams to resume their worke came after an emergency meeting of the Security Council's five permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. -- and after Russia promised Iraq it would seek to ease the UN sanctions imposed on Baghdad after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Berger said, however, that Russia also made it clear to Iraq that it had to comply unconditionally with the weapons inspections. Berger said that "no deal was made with Iraq by the permanent security council members." Berger said the U.S. and the UN will continue to retain all options to ensure compliance.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson and White House spokesman Mike McCurry said today the U.S. will use its veto power, if necessary, to prevent sanctions being lifted before Iraq fully complies with U.N. orders to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction.