CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ The chief U.N. weapons inspector has apologized for accusing a former inspector of breaking the law by speaking out about Iraq's weapons capabilities.

Richard Butler had accused the former inspector, Scott Ritter, of breaking the law by releasing details of information he collected while on official duty. In an interview earlier this month, Butler asked Ritter to ``desist from doing that.''

Ritter's lawyer, Matthew L. Lifflander, asked Butler to retract the accusation in a letter Wednesday.

``I apologize to Scott Ritter if he understood that I meant he broke the American law,'' Butler told the respected Arabic daily Al-Hayat, which is published in London. ``All that I meant was that he violated his commitments to the United Nations.''

The interview with Butler in New York was published Sunday.

Since he resigned Aug. 26, Ritter has spoken out several times on Iraq's weapons programs, accusing the United States and Britain of failing to stand behind inspectors.

He also accused Butler of bowing to U.S. pressure by halting surprise inspections of sites.

Ritter has been quoted by U.S. and Israeli newspapers as saying he dealt with Israeli intelligence and the CIA in seeking information on Iraq's weapons program.

Iraq has long maintained that the U.N. Special Commission was not a neutral agency but worked under the United States and that some of the arms inspectors were spies, Ritter in particular.

U.N. sanctions imposed on Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which led to the Gulf War, will not be lifted until U.N. arms monitors certify Baghdad has eliminated all its banned weapons.