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Inspectors Complete First Unannounced Visit to Iraqi Presidential Palaces - 2002-12-03

U.N. weapons inspectors visited a presidential palace in Baghdad, while Iraqi officials announced they would provide a list of their weapons systems on Saturday.

The weapons inspectors in Iraq tested their new authority to go anywhere they wish. At nine o'clock in the morning, six white U.N. vehicles rolled up to the gates of one of President Saddam Hussein's eight presidential palaces. It marked the first unannounced inspection of a presidential site in Iraq.

Security guards at the palace reportedly radioed for authorization, and within minutes the inspectors were inside. Meanwhile, a second group of inspectors entered the palace through a different gate.

The inspectors spent about two hours in the facility and left without making any comments.

When inspection teams were last in Iraq in the 1990s, the issue of access to presidential palaces caused major confrontations between Iraq and the inspectors.

At that time, a deal was worked out allowing the inspectors inside the palaces, but only with advance notice. U.N. inspectors complained of a lack of Iraqi cooperation and in December 1998 were withdrawn just prior to U.S. and British air strikes.

The current inspection teams are working under a U.N. Security Council resolution that provides for full and unobstructed access to any site they wish to visit.

Iraq has announced it will provide a declaration on its weapons programs on Saturday, one day before the U.N. Security Council deadline.

The head of Iraq's National Monitoring Directorate, Hussam Mohammad Amin, told reporters in Baghdad the declaration will include new elements, but would not, he said, necessarily include a declaration of the presence of weapons of mass destruction. He said Iraq has no such weapons.

The Security Council resolution demands that Iraq provide a complete list of all banned weapons systems and any facilities that could be used to produce them.