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Iraqi Official Says U.N. Talks Have Promise If Given Time Wants Politicians To ‘Leave Us Alone For A Few More Weeks’

Mon., Feb. 9, 1998

Technical talks with the United Nations on the elimination of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction are making progress, an Iraqi official said Sunday. He pleaded for more time to finish before “warmongering” takes over.

Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi, who led the Iraqi delegation in talks last week on the VX chemical agent, said the discussions had been “very constructive, very open and realistic.”

Iraq had hoped the talks would end its standoff with the United Nations - or at least stall the United States’ threatened attack to end the impasse.

The Iraqi delegation presented evidence showing that the government had destroyed chemicals used to make the nerve gas and hoped it would also be able to show that all remnants of the agent itself had been destroyed, he told a news conference.

The U.N. Special Commission, which is overseeing the elimination of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, believes Iraq possessed quantities of the nerve agent and turned some of it into weapons.

Al-Saadi quoted officials on the U.N. team as saying that the talks were “not without merit, but may be a little premature.” U.N. officials have refused to comment.

“It’s time for them (the talks). Otherwise, we will be overtaken by the warmongering,” he said. “If the politicians leave us alone for a few more weeks, I think we can solve the problem.”

Al-Saadi discussed only the five days of talks on VX, which ended Friday, not the six days of talks on whether Iraq still has long-range missiles and warheads.

He also refused to answer questions on diplomatic efforts to end the standoff over inspectors’ access to sensitive sites, such as Saddam Hussein’s palaces. Should diplomacy fail, the United States and Britain have threatened to strike Iraq.

Al-Saadi insisted that showing Iraq had destroyed its weapons of mass destruction was a technical matter. “Going to palaces and other sensitive sites is absurd,” he said.

U.N. inspectors must certify that Iraq has destroyed its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and longrange missiles before punishing economic sanctions imposed after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait will be lifted.

While the Arab League and Russian diplomats pushed for a diplomatic solution, Defense Secretary William Cohen visited the Persian Gulf on Sunday to seek support for the U.S. position. Cohen said the United States would not ask to launch air strikes against Iraq from bases in Saudi Arabia - an apparent concession to Saudi sensitivities about an attack.

Saudi military sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said Sunday that the kingdom has placed its forces on alert, canceled all leaves and beefed up security on the border with Iraq.

In Cairo, the secretary-general of the Arab League, Esmat AbdelMeguid, said that the 22-member league had forwarded proposals aimed at solving the crisis to the U.N. Security Council. He later spoke with the U.N. secretary-general by telephone.

“The proposals will satisfy the U.N. demands to allow its inspectors to enter sites suspected of producing weapons of mass destruction, while preserving Iraq’s dignity and sovereignty,” Abdel-Meguid said.

Meanwhile, Saddam’s son Odai was shown on Iraqi television pledging his readiness to fight the United States.

Odai was critically wounded on Dec. 12, 1996, when dissidents opened fire on his car in a Baghdad suburb. After several operations, Odai is able to walk, usually with the aid of a cane.

“I can’t run with you, but it will never stop me from carrying a gun,” he said. “I have to be in good shape because it angers our enemies.”

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