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Iraq Agrees to Unconditional Return of UN Weapons Inspectors - 2002-09-16

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced Monday that Iraq has agreed to re-admit weapons inspectors, without conditions, after a nearly four-year absence. Baghdad's decision comes under pressure from the international community and President Bush's warning that Washington is prepared for military action against Iraq, if necessary.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan made the announcement after a day of anticipation that something would be decided in Baghdad at any moment.

"I can confirm to you," he said, "that I have received a letter from the Iraqi authorities conveying their decision to allow the return of the inspectors, without conditions, to continue their work, and 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."

The letter from Baghdad, delivered by Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, says Iraq wants to implement all relevant Security Council resolutions and to remove any doubts that Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction. It goes on to say that Iraq considers its decision to allow the inspectors back in the indispensable first step toward a comprehensive solution, which includes the lifting of the U-N sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.

Until now, Baghdad had linked the lifting of sanctions to the resumption of arms inspections, a condition the United Nations said was unacceptable.

The Iraqi letter also calls on all members of the Security Council to respect Iraq's territorial integrity and political independence, an obvious reference to the United States, which has threatened possible military action to oust Saddam Hussein.

What happens now remains unclear. Secretary-General Annan has turned the Iraqi letter over to the 15 members of the Security Council, who will have to decide what to do next. Washington has been pressing for a new resolution warning Iraq of consequences, if it refuses to let the inspectors return.

The secretary general said he believes President Bush's U-N speech last week accusing Iraq of undermining the U.N.'s credibility galvanized the international community. Nearly every national leader and minister addressing the new session of the General Assembly urged Iraq to accept the return of the weapons inspectors.

Arab ministers in New York, anxious to avert a possible U-S military strike in their region, also put the heat on Baghdad, sending messages to Saddam Hussein to be flexible.