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US Urges Iraq to Allow Scientists to Meet With UN Inspectors - 2003-01-24

President Bush says it is "unacceptable" that Iraq is refusing to allow scientists to meet privately with U.N. weapons inspectors. Iraq says its scientists are on their own refusing to meet with the inspectors.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says in order "to protect the peace," Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein must encourage scientists to take part in private interviews without delay.

"This is not a matter for negotiation. This is not a matter for debate. Saddam Hussein has no choice. His refusal is further evidence that Iraq has something to hide," he said.

Mr. Fleischer says the Iraqi leader is obligated to comply with a U.N. resolution that authorizes those interviews as well as surveillance flights by U-2 spy planes.

He dismissed claims by Iraqi officials who say they did their best to push the scientists to meet privately with U.N. inspectors, but they refused.

"In a totalitarian police state like Iraq, that's laughable. There is no credibility to that," he said. "Saddam Hussein has called the inspectors spies. In Iraq, if the president of Iraq, who does not exactly have a history of being a peaceful man toward those who have any dissent toward his opinions, calls the inspectors spies, he is sending a very powerful message to his scientists: 'Don't meet with them because if you meet with spies, you know the history of what has happened to people who defy my will.' "

Thursday, a high ranking Pentagon official accused Iraqi officials of threatening to kill scientists and their families if they spoke with U.N. weapons inspectors.

President Bush says he will use force if Iraq refuses to give-up suspected weapons of mass destruction. Iraq says Washington is determined to invade the country regardless of what U.N. inspectors find.

Russia and Germany Friday repeated their opposition to war in Iraq following a telephone call between President Vladimir Putin and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. China and France are also pushing for a diplomatic solution.

Mr. Fleischer says President Bush does not want to go to war. Instead, he says Washington wants to keep the peace by making sure that Saddam Hussein can not engage in war against the United States.

If the president does decide to fight, Mr. Fleischer says he is confident that he will lead a broad coalition.

"The problem the world will have to confront one day is, if Saddam Hussein continues in his efforts to defy them, to stop them, to not live up to the very obligations that Saddam Hussein committed to when the United Nations passed its resolutions, what then will the world do? Will the world choose to do nothing or will the world choose to recognize that Saddam Hussein is not cooperating. These decisions have not yet been made," he said.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix reports to the Security Council Monday about the continuing search for banned weapons in Iraq. That report is expected to ask for more time.