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Iraq rejects latest plan for weapons inspection
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq defiantly rejected a U.S.-British plan Saturday for the United Nations to force President Saddam Hussein to disarm and open his palaces for weapons searches, warning the Baghdad would stage a fierce defense if the allies attacked.
Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz also said the United States would suffer losses "that have not been sustained for decades" if it sought to topple the Iraqi leader.
Ignoring the Iraqi rejection, the United States and Britain lobbied for Russian and French support for a tough new U.N. resolution, which would call on Iraq to reveal all materials relating to weapons of mass destruction and to give U.N. weapons inspectors unfettered access to presidential sites.
If Saddam fails to comply, the resolution would threaten the use of "all necessary means" against him, U.S. officials told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
But Paris and Moscow, both of which hold veto power on the five-country U.N. Security Council, showed no signs of agreeing to the U.S.-British proposal. The Russians and French, as well as the Chinese, oppose adopting a resolution threatening force before inspectors are able to return to Baghdad.
Iraq announced Sept. 16 that inspectors could return unconditionally under previous U.N. resolutions. But Iraqi officials have said they would reject any new Security Council demands.
"Our position on the inspectors has been decided and any additional procedure is meant to hurt Iraq and is unacceptable," Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said Saturday.
'A fierce fight'
Aziz, meanwhile, warned that the United States would suffer major losses if it invades Iraq.
"Any aggression on Iraq will not be a picnic, instead it will be a fierce fight where America will suffer losses that have not been sustained for decades," Aziz said. "Iraq is determined to resist and defeat any U.S. attack."
Aziz accused "Zionist circles" in Britain and the United States of pushing the two nations into war against Iraq to serve Israel, and added, "They are trying to redraw the map of the Arab region in order to control its resources."
The White House took a dim view of the Iraqi position.
"It's clear that Saddam Hussein wants to drag his feet so he can build up his arms," President Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said Saturday while traveling with Bush in Texas. "This is not a matter to be negotiated with Iraq. This is a matter of whether the United Nations is willing to stand up to Iraqi defiance."
The Iraqi newspaper Babil, owned by Saddam's eldest son, Odai, accused Bush of accusing the Iraqi government of links with the al-Qaida terror network to justify an attack after failing with the inspections issue. Babil said Iraq has no links to al-Qaida and shares no common ideologies or goals with the group.
U.S. officials have said al-Qaida operatives found refuge in Baghdad and Saddam harbored top aides to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and helped his followers develop chemical weapons.
Washington accuses Saddam of pursuing weapons of mass destruction and supporting terrorism and has called for a regime change in Iraq, which has been under sweeping U.N. sanctions since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Those sanctions cannot be lifted until U.N. weapons inspectors certify that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. The inspectors left the country ahead of U.S.-British airstrikes in December 1998 and have been barred from returning.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, in Tehran to seek Iran's support against U.S. military action, said Saturday, "Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction and is ready to admit the U.N. inspectors."
Would nullify '98 deal
According to U.S. officials, the draft resolution gives inspectors the right to designate "no-fly" and "no-drive" zones in Iraq. Currently, "no-fly" zones in Iraq's north and south are patrolled by U.S. and British warplanes.
The resolution also would nullify a 1998 agreement between U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Saddam preventing inspectors from springing surprise checks at eight presidential sites, which encompass a total of about 12 square miles and include several palaces.
The resolution also envisions ending the Iraqi practice of assigning government guides to accompany inspectors moving through the country.
It also would detail Iraq's violations and specify what actions Baghdad must take to correct them, including the "complete destruction" of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, who shared the U.S. draft with French officials in Paris on Friday, flew to Moscow Saturday to continue his mission with Peter Ricketts, political director of the British Foreign Office.
"Our purpose here today was not to negotiate a text, was not to come to any agreement," Grossman said after meeting Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov.
The Russians "had some questions, we tried to give some answers," he said.
Ivanov told Russian television that Russia continues to insist on the quick return of inspectors, "who should give a clear answer to the question of whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction."
Bush called French President Jacques Chirac to try to win his support. But Chirac urged Bush to back a French approach for two resolutions -- a first one calling for full compliance and cooperation with inspectors, and a second one authorizing force should Iraq fail to comply.
Britain, meanwhile, sent a second envoy to Beijing for talks with senior Chinese officials.