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Baghdad Engages In Another Faceoff With UN Inspectors

IRAQ called on the UN Security Council Sunday to prevent another US missile attack, as United Nations weapons inspectors left here abruptly after being denied permission to seal two Iraqi rocket test sites.

"I was not allowed to do what I went in for, and that is why I came out immediately," said American Mark Silver, head of the three-man inspection team, shortly after arriving in Bahrain from Baghdad.

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Iraq's refusal to allow the seals brought it to the brink of another confrontation with the UN, which had earlier warned of "serious consequences" if Iraq did not cooperate.

In a letter sent to the Security Council Sunday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf called the attempt to seal the site "irrevelant and unwarranted," because the rockets tested there have a range of less than 150 kilometers, and are thus allowed under UN resolutions. The letter claimed one of the sites to be sealed was built in 1992 with the consent of UN inspectors, and that seals only made sense on old sites related to weaponry banned by UN Resolution 687.

The letter said Iraq has complied with Resolution 687, wants to report its compliance to the UN, and that long-term monitoring under Resolution 715 should not begin until the issue of 687 was completed.

"It is evidently clear," the letter says, that the inspection team "was prepared to create pretexts and prepare the atmosphere for launching a fresh military aggression."

An Iraqi official said his government had offered a compromise proposal to the inspection team which would make sealing the equipment unnecessary. That offer is believed to involve access to the test sites by UN personnel.

UN inspectors spent an hour at the two test sites on Sunday, but were unable to fulfill their mission of sealing testing equipment to ensure Iraqi compliance in banning construction of long-range missiles. Sealing the equipment has been conceived as "an interim measure ... to stop [Iraqis] using the test sites until they comply with their obligations" to install cameras, Mr. Silver said.

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Yussef Hamadi insisted Saturday night that his government had not rejected the cameras outright, but "we have asked the UN to postpone the installation of cameras" pending further talks.

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Claiming it has fulfilled its obligations in this field, Iraq is asking that sanctions be partially lifted. "The Iraqis are frustrated at getting nothing in return" for destroying their arms, says a diplomat.

Rolf Ekeus, head of the UN Weapons Inspectorate, has said that sanctions will not be lifted until Iraq has complied with all relevant UN resolutions. He announced Friday that an Iraqi team would be traveling to New York this week for a discussion of the steps that need to be taken.

Sunday's standoff makes such talks unlikely, and has heightened fears in Baghdad of another missile strike only two weeks after the US launched 23 Tomahawk missiles at Intelligence Headquarters in Baghdad in retaliation for an alleged plot to assassinate former President Bush.

It is not clear what the UN's next move will be, but US Secretary of State Warren Christopher said Friday that if inspectors were not allowed to seal the equipment, the Security Council would likely recommend that Iraq destroy the facility. If the Iraqis refused, Christopher said, the UN would have to react.

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