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Iraq Special Report

  Annan Briefs Security Council

Kofi Annan Waves/Reuters
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan received a hero's welcome after returning from Baghdad. (Reuters)

By Susan Sevareid
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, February 24, 1998; 3:00 p.m. EST

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Secretary-General Kofi Annan briefed the Security Council today on his weapons inspection agreement with Iraq, emerging with ``a general sense of approval'' although some details remain to be worked out.

U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson agreed, saying: ``We believe that this agreement is a step in the right direction, but we need some clarifications in some of the language.''

The council did not immediately make a decision on the accord struck by Annan in a visit to Baghdad -- an agreement he called ``a victory for the United Nations.''

``I am pleased to tell you that I had a general sense of approval from the membership as to the agreement that I signed in Baghdad,'' Annan said. ``Obviously, there are details that have to be worked out.''

Richardson said it could take a few days to get the clarifications the United States is looking for. Some concerns he cited were that the U.N. Special Commission, which oversees inspections, maintain a pre-eminent role and that a clause in the accord acknowledging respect for Iraqi sovereignty not be used as an excuse to avoid its obligations.

British Ambassador John Weston said his government also was seeking some clarifications, but would not elaborate.

Richardson would not say when he expected inspectors to visit the presidential sites. The United States, distrustful of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, said it wants to ensure that there are no loopholes in the deal that Saddam may use to his advantage.

Annan, however, said this agreement is different from others.

``We have to remember that in the years that the U.N. has been present in Baghdad, many agreements have been signed, but ... this one was negotiated with the president himself. And the leadership has got the message that he wants cooperation, he wants it done.''

The secretary-general had been upbeat this morning going into the closed Security Council meeting. Legally, the accord does not require Security Council approval, but politically it would be difficult to proceed without it.

``I think we have a good agreement, an agreement that I will defend anywhere, and I'm sure the member states would accept it,'' Annan told about 700 U.N. employees pressed against blue metal barriers to congratulate him on his mission to Iraq.

``There were millions of people around the world rooting for peace,'' Annan told the whistling and applauding U.N. staff. ``That is why I say you should never underestimate the power of prayer.''

Annan thanked President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair ``for being perfect U.N. peacekeepers -- U.N. peacekeepers in the sense that we taught our peacekeepers that the best way to use force is to show it in order not to have to use it.''

Mindful of past broken promises by Saddam, the Clinton administration said it wants the agreement to be tested.

``What is critical to us is compliance with this agreement. We want to test it soon. We want to verify it soon,'' Richardson said.

A U.S. concern during the council meeting was who would head the ``special group'' that will inspect the eight presidential sites at the heart of the latest standoff, according to a Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Annan said only that Richard Butler, whom Iraq has been critical, would remain as chief U.N. weapons inspector.

Clinton ordered the U.S. military force in the Persian Gulf to remain in case Iraq reneges again. Ground and air forces continued to arrive today even as the threat of conflict eased.

The president said the United States would be ``watching very closely'' to see if Iraq carries out the agreement.

``Let there be no doubt we must remain committed to see that Saddam Hussein does not menace the world with weapons of mass destruction,'' Clinton said.

Under the accord signed Monday, Iraq would give the U.N. Special Commission that oversees inspections and the International Atomic Energy Agency ``immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access'' to suspected weapons sites as required by past U.N. resolutions.

However, the two-page memo stipulated that senior diplomats appointed by Annan, along with experts from UNSCOM and IAEA, would carry out inspections at eight presidential palaces.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright insisted today that U.N. inspectors must remain in control of the search for Iraqi weapons if the agreement is to stand.

``UNSCOM has to be in operational control,'' she said.

The accord also reiterated the commitment of U.N. member states to ``respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq.'' And it addressed an issue of particular importance to Iraq -- the lifting of economic sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, sparking the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

While it set no time line, it noted that the lifting of sanctions is ``obviously of paramount importance.''

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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