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U-2 spycraft continues weapon inspections despite Iraqi threats

Nov. 11, 1997

The Associated Press

An American spy plane resumed flights high over Iraq yesterday, despite warnings from the Iraqis that it would shoot down the U-2 aircraft. The U.N. flight came hours before the Security Council met to discuss Baghdad's refusal to cooperate with arms inspections.

Iraqi military officials said the plane, which crossed into southern Iraq from northern Saudi Arabia, flew outside the range of its gunners but that it monitored the aircraft with radar until it left Iraqi airspace three hours later.

On Sunday, Iraq barred U.N. weapon inspection teams that included Americans for a seventh day and sent its deputy prime minister to argue its case before the U.N. Security Council, which met late yesterday afternoon.

Iraq has said that American weapons inspectors working with the United Nations are spies trying to prolong U.N. economic sanctions imposed after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The U-2 flights are used by the weapons monitors.

The United States will be seeking the 'strongest possible action' against Iraq when the Security Council meets to discuss Baghdad's refusal to cooperate with U.N. arms inspections as long as they include Americans.

In Baghdad, President Saddam Hussein warned his people they face a choice between 'sacrifice or slavery.''

Iraq wants Americans removed from the team and, diplomats say, a timetable for an end to inspections that are the key to lifting crippling economic sanctions.

The United States and the United Nations have rejected both of those demands. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said allowing Iraq to determine the makeup of the inspection team would be like 'the bank robber choosing who the police are.''

Iraq has threatened to fire on U.S.-manned U-2 surveillance aircraft flying missions for the United Nations. A Pentagon official said that would constitute an act of war.

The 15-member Security Council discussed the issue yesterday afternoon. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz was due to arrive in New York yesterday to present his country's case to the world organization.

U.N. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Secretary-General Kofi Annan had met later in the morning with Aziz to see if the Iraqi official would signal any softening of Baghdad's public position. If not, the officials said, Annan would tell the council that diplomacy was at a standstill. The U.N. officials said that Iraq's public position, a reduction in the percentage of Americans in the inspection program and a timetable for the end to sanctions, was unacceptable.

On the eve of the meeting, Annan conferred Sunday night with the three international envoys he sent to Baghdad last week to try unsuccessfully to convince Saddam to back down.

'The Iraqis have to come to the one conclusion to rescind their decision and comply by Security Council resolutions,' one of the envoys, Swedish diplomat Jan Eliasson, told reporters. 'It would be in their enlightened self-interest to do so.'

Options include banning Iraqi officials who obstruct U.N. inspections from traveling abroad, restricting imports of equipment which can be used for both civilian and military purposes and cancelling periodic reviews of the sanctions program.

But the council is so deeply divided over how to respond to the Iraqi actions that American officials would appear to be satisfied for the moment with a strong statement endorsed by all 15 council members, even if it did not contain dramatic new measures.

On Sunday, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said on CBS' 'Face the Nation' the United States would seek 'the strongest possible action in the Security Council to reverse this completely illegal activity.''

Asked if Washington were prepared for unilateral action if the council fails to stand tough, Albright replied, 'People know that we will do what is necessary. I think we are going to work on having international accord, but we cannot afford to have anyone doubt our resolve.'

The Security Council imposed economic sanctions on Iraq after Saddam sent his forces into Kuwait, touching off the Persian Gulf War. The sanctions ban virtually all trade with Iraq, although the curbs were loosened last year to allow Baghdad to sell limited amounts of oil to buy food and medicine for its people.

Under terms that ended the war in 1991, Iraq agreed to destroy all long-range missiles and mass destruction weapons. U.N. inspectors were sent to Iraq to verify compliance.

But the inspectors have complained from the onset that Iraq has systematically concealed information about its arms programs and prevented teams from inspecting all suspected weapons sites.

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