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Iraq: Baghdad To PermitWeapons Inspections

Baghdad, 17 September 2002 (RFE/RL) UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced last night that he had received a letter from Iraq saying the government had decided to allow weapons inspectors to return to work in Iraq "without conditions." Annan announced: "And I can confirm to you that I have received a letter from the Iraqi authorities conveying [their] decision to allow the return of the [arms] inspectors, without conditions, to continue their work, and [Iraq] has also agreed that they are ready to start immediate discussions on the practical arrangements for the return of the inspectors to resume their work."

Annan said it is now up to the UN Security Council to decide what step will be taken next.

The text of the Iraqi letter to Annan says the Baghdad government decided to allow inspectors to return to "remove any doubts" that Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz says Baghdad has thwarted any justification for a U.S.-led attack by allowing the return of UN arms inspectors.

Aziz told an international "solidarity conference" in Baghdad today that "all the reasons for an attack have been eliminated."

Aziz's comments were the first Iraqi reaction since the United States called the Iraqi announcement a "tactical step" that "will fail." The White House said a new and effective UN Security Council resolution on Iraq is still needed.

Initial reactions to the Iraqi announcement have varied among the four other permanent, veto-wielding members of the Security Council.

The U.S. position was echoed by a British government spokeswoman, who said Saddam Hussein's regime has "a long history of playing games."

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov welcomed the Iraqi announcement, saying it has deflected the threat of war.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said the Security Council "must now hold Saddam Hussein to his word."

Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said "the Iraqi decision is what the international community, including China, has always hoped to see."

There have been no weapons inspections in Iraq since December 1998, when inspectors pulled out ahead of air strikes by the United States.