- (AFP) -- Baghdad accused Washington of "banditry
unparalleled" in UN history after the United States seized a crucial
Iraqi arms declaration within hours of its delivery to the world body's
headquarters in New York.
- Iraq's charge came as the daunting task of analyzing
its nearly 12,000-page document began in earnest, backed by swelling numbers
of UN experts in the country.
- Washington had earlier defended its removal of the massive
declaration, saying it was essential to restrict circulation of sensitive
details of how Baghdad made weapons of mass destruction to the five permanent
members of the Security Council who are declared nuclear powers.
- But other council members questioned how they could judge
US charges Iraq was lying about its banned weapons programmes if they were
denied access to the full text of its "currently accurate, full and
- In the Arab world, where Washington is widely suspected
of plotting to derail the UN disarmament process as a pretext for military
action, the US action Sunday, which only emerged late Monday, was also
branded an "act of piracy".
- British and French diplomats said they got copies of
Iraq's declaration in Washington at 6:30 pm (2330 GMT) Monday, about 18
hours after a US official took the document -- containing almost 12,000
printed pages and several computer disks -- from the office of UN chief
arms inspector Hans Blix.
- US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said copies
had to be made "in a controlled environment in order to guard against
the inadvertent release of information" -- an assertion backed by
- "They were done as quickly as possible and in the
requisite conditions of security," a French diplomat said.
- It was not immediately clear if the two other nuclear-armed
permanent members -- China and Russia -- had also received copies, although
council president Alfonso Valdivieso of Colombia said those with special
expertise in weapons proliferation would receive the declaration first.
- The 10 non-permanent members would be given sanitized
- Valdivieso said he made his decision after consulting
other council members, but he did not say whether they had agreed.
- Several sources who asked not to be identified said a
US official, accompanied by Valdivieso, took the declaration away just
three hours after it was delivered to the Security Council on Sunday in
accordance with the deadline set last month.
- The documents were not signed for and Valdivieso did
not even lay a hand on them, the sources said.
- "There were no face-to-face consultations, and many
members are upset," a council diplomat said.
- The only one prepared to protest publicly, Syrian Ambassdor
Mikhail Wehbe, said the act was "in contradiction with every kind
of logic in the Security Council and against the unity of the council."
- UN Secretary General Kofi Annan defended the US action,
while acknowledging he had learnt of it only after the event.
- "The council is master of its own deliberations.
If the council decided to do that, it is their right and I will not quibble
with that," said Annan.
- In Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher urged
that "before Washington gives its judgement on the arms issue, that
the declaration be subjected to an attentive reading," the government
newspaper Al Ahram reported.
- Just how much was at stake in the assessment of Iraq's
arms dossier was made clear by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who insisted
that any breach would be an immediate trigger for military action by London
- "If (Iraqi President Saddam Hussein) fails to cooperate,
either in any false declaration or in refusing access to the sites or interviewing
witnesses, then that is a breach" of Resolution 1441," Blair
told the Financial Times.
- "And in those circumstances, my understanding is
that the UN is very clear: there should be action."
- In the Arab world, the Al-Raya daily asked whether that
was not precisely the motive for Washington's decision to take charge of
Iraq's declaration to the United Nations.
- "The method by which Washington obtained the dossier
can only be termed an act of piracy," the Qatar-based daily charged.
- "This method is all the more suspicious because
the US administration does not hide its belligerent intentions towards
Iraq," it said.
- Meanwhile, Russia warned Washington against the situation
as a pretext for attempting to overthrow the regime in Baghdad.
- "Work on eliminating Iraqi weapons of mass destruction
cannot be replaced by efforts to change the incumbent Iraqi regime,"
foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko was quoted by the Interfax
news agency as saying.
- Iran's powerful former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
accused the United States of seeking to install another dictator in neighbouring
Iraq, Tehran press reports said.
- US and British troops held a second day of war games
in Qatar Tuesday as the Western allies pressed on with their contingency
plans for war.
- About 1,000 US and British staff officers were involved
in the "Internal Look" exercise, which is seen as a key test
of command capabilities for any fully-fledged invasion of Iraq and bears
the same name as a similar exercise conducted in the run-up to the 1991
- The White House meanwhile announced 92 million dollars
in military assistance to six groups opposed to the Baghdad regime ahead
of a major opposition meeting in London later this week.
- In Baghdad, five teams of UN inspectors went out on site
visits, compared with the two which had operated in the first two weeks
of inspections, ranging far and wide from Baghdad for the first time since
the hunt for banned arms resumed two weeks ago.
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