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Iraqi Official Says U.S. Saves Face

March 3, 1998

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ A U.N. resolution warning Iraq to keep its presidential palaces open to arms inspectors is a face-saving measure for the United States, an Iraqi official said today.

But Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf promised that Baghdad would not back down from the agreement and said Iraq did not believe the Security Council needed a resolution to enforce the deal.

``If there is any real meaning in this resolution, then it is the adoption and the endorsement″ of the U.N.-Iraqi agreement, al-Sahhaf told ssociated Press Television. ``The rest is some kind of political rhetoric.″

The threat of ``severest consequences″ if Iraq violates the accord ``is meant as face-saving for the Americans,″ he said. ``We have to concentrate on the real work and not on the rhetoric.″

Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz echoed al-Sahhaf’s remarks in a statement carried by the official Iraqi News Agency, saying Iraq ``was committed to the terms in the pact.″

Their remarks were the first official reaction to the vote.

The deal, signed by Aziz and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Feb. 23, grants U.N. weapons inspectors unrestricted access to all sites in Iraq and will open eight Iraqi presidential compounds for the first time to visits by a special U.N. committee made up of U.N. diplomats and weapons inspectors.

Iraq hailed the deal as a victory and celebrations were held in Baghdad to mark it as a defeat for the United States, which had threatened to attack to force full compliance with U.N. weapons inspectors.

Today’s newspapers went to press before the resolution was adopted. But editorials continued to expound on the ``positive aspects″ of the deal, which spared Iraq _ at least for now _ massive aerial and missile strikes by the United States and its allies.

The West has urged Iraq to abide by the deal. Today, France sent a top diplomat, Bertrand Dufourcq, to Baghdad to ``underline the importance″ of the agreement, said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anne Gazeau-Secret.

Although the threat of an attack has receded, Iraq is still buckling under sweeping U.N. economic sanctions that were imposed after it invaded Kuwait in 1990.

Eric Falt, spokesman for U.N. humanitarian operations in Iraq, said a U.N. technical team would arrive Saturday to evaluate Iraq’s oil industry in an effort to increase Iraq’s oil exports under an agreement with the United Nations.

The program, launched in December 1996, allows Iraq to sell $2 billion worth of crude oil every six months to buy food and medicine for its 22 million people.

The U.N. Security Council has approved an increase to $5.2 billion, but Iraq says its oil industry is in such disrepair it may only be able to sell $4 billion.

In its evaluation, the U.N. team will ``look at requirements for the repair and rehabilitation of oil facilities,″ Falt said.

Al-Sahhaf travels to New York on Monday for talks on the oil-for-food deal.

Meanwhile, two planes from the United Arab Emirates and another from Morocco landed in Baghdad carrying 99 tons of medical supplies, pharmaceuticals and food.

Update hourly