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White House Skeptical on Iraq Acceptance of UN Inspectors - 2002-09-17

The Bush administration has responded skeptically to suggestions by Iraq that it will agree to the return of U.N. weapons inspectors. The U.N. Secretary-General says Iraq has agreed to inspectors to remove any doubts that it still has weapons of mass destruction.

In a statement from the White House deputy press secretary, the Bush Administration says Iraq's agreeing to inspectors is a "tactical step," in hopes of avoiding strong action by the U.N. Security Council. As such, the statement says, it is a tactic that will fail.

The statement says the U.N. Security Council needs to decide how to enforce its own resolutions, which the Iraqi regime has defied for more than a decade. This requires a new, more effective U.N. resolution, according to the White House statement, one that deals with the threat Saddam Hussein poses to the Iraqi people.

This is not a matter of inspections, the Bush Administration says. It is about disarmament of Iraq.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said Iraq's decision came late Monday in a letter delivered by the country's foreign minister. The letter says Iraq wants to remove any doubts that it still has weapons of mass destruction. It also asks the Security Council to respect its territorial integrity.

Mr. Annan said Iraq has agreed to open immediate talks on the arrangements and details for the return of the inspectors. The secretary general says he is passing the letter on to the U.N. chief weapons inspector and the entire Security Council to decide the next step.

President Bush went to the United Nations last week, and called for quick action on a resolution forcing the Iraqi leader to give up weapons of mass destruction.

There have been no U.N. inspections in Iraq since 1998. The Bush Administration says Iraq has used the four-year lull to build more chemical and biological weapons, and to further its efforts to develop a nuclear bomb.

President Bush wants quick action on a U.N. resolution forcing the Iraqi leader to disarm. If he refuses, and the international community fails to disarm Iraq, Mr. Bush says the United States is ready to act on its own.