UN weapons inspectors prepared to leave for Iraq after Saddam Hussein accepted their return, while Washington again warned Iraqi leadership that war remains an option if disarmament demands are not met.
"Iraq accepts the resolution, unreservedly, without conditions," Baghdad's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed al-Douri said after delivering a letter from his government to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. In the nine-page letter arriving two days ahead of a deadline, Iraq said it wants to prove to the world that it has no weapons of mass destruction.
In the letter, Iraq accused President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair of fabricating evidence that Baghdad possessed or was on its way to producing nuclear weapons — and had already stockpiled biological and chemical weapons.
"The lies and manipulations of the American administration and British government will be exposed," the letter said. It also warned that Iraq plans to closely monitor the inspectors while they are in the country.
Annan said Iraq had accepted Resolution 1441, and the inspectors would be in Baghdad Monday.
"The issue is not acceptance, but performance on the ground," Annan said at the White House after meeting with US President George W. Bush. "I urge the Iraqis to cooperate with them and to perform, and that is the real test we are all waiting for."
The next deadline facing President Saddam Hussein's regime is December 8, when it must make a full, accurate and up-to-date declaration of its programs to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
The chief UN arms inspector, Hans Blix, is scheduled to leave Friday for Europe, accompanied by a dozen aides. They and about eight people from the International Atomic Energy Agency, led by IAEA director general Mohammed El-Baradei, are to fly Monday to Baghdad from Cyprus to reopen offices that have been closed since 1998.
Still, the United States warned Iraq had not definitively averted war by bowing to the UN disarmament ultimatum. According to AFP, US officials said Saddam Hussein's pledge to allow the return of arms inspectors could easily become another broken promise.
"We've heard this before from Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime. Now we need to see it by Saddam Hussein's actions," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said even before the administration studied the letter.
"We the world, expects (sic) Saddam Hussein to disarm for the sake of peace," Bush said later as he met with Annan, praising the United Nations for having "stepped up to its responsibilities."
Speaking shortly before Baghdad unveiled its response, Bush emphasized his "zero-tolerance" policy towards Iraq, saying: "We will not tolerate any deception, denial or deceit, period."
White House aides said they doubted Iraq's willingness to comply by the resolution's December 8 deadline for making a full disclosure of any chemical, biological or nuclear arms. Baghdad denies having weapons of mass destruction.
"If he chooses not to disarm, we will disarm him. That should be clear to Saddam Hussein and everybody else," said Bush. "I have told the United Nations we'll be glad to consult with them but the resolution does not prevent us from doing what needs to be done, which is to hold Saddam Hussein to account."
In Paris, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said his country "now expects Iraq's full and complete cooperation with the UN" following Baghdad's move.
"France takes note of this acceptance which opens the way for the return of UN inspectors to under the terms of the resolution, and now expects Iraq's full and complete cooperation with the United Nations," the minister told lawmakers.
Officials in Russia welcomed Saddam's decision. "We were confident that Iraq would make this decision, which opens the way for a political resolution of the situation," Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said. "Now it is important that the international inspectors quickly return to Iraq."
In Cairo, Arab League chief Amr Mussa praised Iraq's decision, saying it opened the way to a "settlement of the crisis." (Albawaba.com)
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