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Iraq Special Report

  World Leaders Hail Accord on Iraq

By David Hoffman
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 24, 1998; Page A18

MOSCOW, Feb. 23—World leaders hailed the agreement between Iraq and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan today, saying it would avert a military strike on Baghdad, but many expressed caution about the details and promised to give the pact close scrutiny. They said the deal would have to give international inspectors full access to suspected weapons sites in Iraq.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin took credit for having pushed a political settlement. "From the very beginning, we supported a diplomatic solution of this crisis," Yeltsin said. "Tonight, the issue has been settled. [Saddam] Hussein gave his word."

But others were more circumspect, awaiting full disclosure of the deal that Annan signed with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. Annan was planning to bring details before the Security Council on Tuesday.

"We have to have a Security Council resolution that makes it absolutely clear we're not going to be back in this position, playing some game in two or three months' time," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair, noting that reports of the agreement call for unhindered access for the arms inspectors. "This is precisely what we've been asking for," he said. "But we have to check the fine print."

In the Arab world, it was hard to find anyone who was not pleased or at least relieved about the agreement. The near-unanimity of these feelings may put pressure on the United States and Britain to go along with the accord, Arab leaders said, because to oppose the accord would risk a backlash.

"The political option has won out . . . preventing the Middle East from plunging toward a dangerous crossroads," said Esmat Abdel-Meguid, secretary general of the Arab League, based in Cairo. Anyone who opts for violence now, he added, would "shake the people's confidence in those who insist on using [violent] means."

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, one of the most important American allies in the region, noted that Annan had spoken with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright before the accord was signed, implying that Washington gave it its blessing. "This is an indication that this is a very good agreement," he said. Mubarak also had words of caution for Saddam Hussein. "If this agreement is broken, it will lead to a much more serious situation," he said.

In generally welcoming the accord signed in Baghdad, Arab leaders may have been reacting to heightened political tensions in their own countries. For the past several days, demonstrations in several Middle Eastern cities protested U.S. plans for bombing. Nowhere was the threat of violence felt more keenly than in Jordan, where fighting broke out last Friday during a pro-Iraq demonstration in the southern city of Maan. Jordan's government expressed joy at the accord. Deputy Prime Minister Jawad Anani said it would avoid "horrendous results" of war.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat also hailed the agreement after weeks in which Palestinians had rallied against the United States in several West Bank and Gaza Strip cities. Palestinian leaders also hope that once this crisis is resolved, international attention might turn to stalled peace talks with the Israelis. "It was a very successful step," Arafat said of the accord.

While much of the world heaved a sigh of relief, Israel seemed to be hyperventilating with anxiety. From nearly every quarter, Israelis said they were the big losers in the U.N.-brokered deal on Iraq, and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was widely seen as the deal's chief beneficiary, having apparently escaped the threat of American airstrikes. A principal concern was that Saddam Hussein had gotten off scot-free, and that Israel's main protector and benefactor, the United States, had been outfoxed.

"I believe that, knowing [Saddam Hussein's] personality and style and history, he never could be accused of respecting any agreement he could ever sign," Uzi Landau, a key member of Israel's parliament from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud bloc, said in an interview.

Israelis were even more concerned that they had been made to look panicky and weak by thronging gas mask distribution centers, jamming airline reservation phone lines and hoarding plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal off rooms against the threat of germ warfare. The government said Israeli pharmacies soon will begin dispensing antibiotic antidotes to anthrax.

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said Saddam Hussein "has stepped back because of French proposals and the talent and work of Kofi Annan." France had urged a diplomatic solution of the crisis.

Annan arrived in Paris tonight aboard the aircraft put at his disposal Friday by French President Jacques Chirac, who hosted the U.N. leader at a late-evening dinner at the Elysee presidential palace.

In a live interview on French television after the dinner, Vedrine was asked what would happen if Saddam Hussein violated the agreement. "He'll be taking even bigger risks," Vedrine said.

Germany said it was premature to react to the agreement. "The Americans and British are holding off, and the same applies to Germany," said a spokesman, according to Reuters news agency. Germany had pledged to allow U.S. use of air bases there in the event of an attack on Iraq.

China, which had joined Russia in strongly protesting the use of force, welcomed Annan's agreement. The state-run news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao as saying the deal "will drive away the war haze hovering over the Gulf region."

"I want to feel hopeful, but can't help still feeling anxiety," Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto said. Japan had asked the United States to hold off any military action until the Winter Olympics ended on Sunday.

In Moscow, there were no anxieties expressed by officials who have been striving to show that Russia still has a major role to play in world affairs. Russia had taken the lead in urging Annan to make the personal visit to Baghdad. The Russian Foreign Ministry boasted that it was Yeltsin's contacts with Saddam Hussein, through his special envoy in Baghdad, that "became the decisive factor of the success" of the Annan mission.

Yeltsin spoke by telephone tonight with President Clinton, according to Yeltsin's spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, who said they stressed "the great positive significance" of Annan's mission. Yastrzhembsky quoted Yeltsin as saying that the Annan deal may open the door to full implementation of U.N. resolutions on Iraq and "consequently to complete elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction."

Russian oil companies have signed lucrative contracts with Iraq that would come into force if the United Nations sanctions are lifted. The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed hope that the sanctions ultimately would be lifted.

Correspondents John Burgess in London, Charles Trueheart in Paris, Lee Hockstader in Jerusalem and Daniel Williams in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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