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Iraq Says It Will Meet UN Deadline a Day Early

Iraq says it will meet the December 8 deadline set by the United Nations for declaring what weapons of mass destruction it may still have and will do so a day ahead of time.

This, on a day when weapons inspectors carried out a search of one of President Saddam Hussein's palaces for banned nuclear, chemical and biological weapons which Baghdad says it no longer has.

The last time weapons inspectors were in Iraq during the 1990s, it took a special agreement between President Saddam and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in order for Baghdad to let weapons inspectors have access to presidential palaces. Restrictions Iraq placed on searches of other so-called sensitive sites ultimately led to the inspectors' departure, only to be followed by U.S. and British air strikes.

But Tuesday's unannounced search of a presidential compound in Baghdad passed without incident, with inspectors saying they had access to everything they wanted. Weapons experts did not reveal what, if anything they found, but in New York, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed satisfaction with the inspection process so far.

"It's only been a week and obviously the cooperation seems to be good," he said. "But this is not a one week wonder."

That assessment seemed to be at odds with one offered by President Bush, who on Monday characterized Iraq's cooperation as "not encouraging". Still, Mr. Bush believes the question of war against Iraq does not ultimately rest on Iraqi cooperation but on President Saddam Hussein's willingness to disarm.

"The issue is not the inspectors," the president said. "The issue is whether or not Mr. Saddam Hussein will disarm like he said he would. We're not interested in hide and seek inside Iraq."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tells reporters whatever written account Baghdad provides of its weapons program on Saturday will have to be weighed against what he says the United States and Britain already know about it.

"It is not for some country to go in and give them a clean bill of health, it is for Iraq to give itself a clean bill of health by saying here's honestly what we currently have, here's where it is, here's what we've done, please destroy it for us," he said.

A Bush administration official says the list Iraq submits could amount to an enormous document, in Arabic, that would require time to read and translate before any assessment about Baghdad's cooperation could be made.

But if the list does trigger a U.S.-led war, Turkey announced Tuesday it will allow U.S. warplanes to use its air bases to attack Iraq provided military action is met with United Nations approval.