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Annan Says UN Weapons Inspectors Preparing to Return to Iraq - 2002-10-03

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says his chief weapons inspector is making preparations to return to Iraq. This, as President Bush continues to face resistance among Security Council members for a new resolution that would threaten the use of force if Iraq does not destroy its suspected weapons of mass destruction.

Koffi Annan believes existing U.N. resolutions already provide a basis for Hans Blix to send an advance weapons inspection team back to Baghdad. The chief U.N. weapons inspector briefed members of the Security Council Thursday on his talks with Iraqi officials about resuming weapons checks, but suggested it might be better not to return to the country until a divided Security Council decides exactly what his mandate will be.

"It would be awkward if we were doing inspections and then a new mandate, with new, changed directives were to arrive," he said.

The Bush administration does not want weapons inspectors to return to work without the backing of the Security Council for a new, tougher resolution, one that would spell out the threat of attack Iraq faces if it does not disarm. At the moment, the White House appears to be having trouble getting council members Russia, China and France to agree to the wording. All three have reservations about the threat of force.

Again Thursday, President Bush let the United Nations know he will act if he has to, regardless of what other nations decide to do.

"Military option is my last choice, not my first, it's my last choice," he said. "But Saddam has got to understand, the United Nations must know, that the will of this country is strong."

On Friday, Hans Blix is expected to brief the Bush administration on his talks with Iraqi officials this week in Vienna. Regardless of what the U.N. Security Council decides, U.S. congressional leaders expect to pass a bipartisan resolution next week giving the president the authority he needs to take military action against Iraq if he decides all diplomatic options toward disarmament have failed.