U.N. chief, Iraq agree to deal on weapons inspections

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — U.N. chief Kofi Annan and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein settled the last major obstacle Sunday to opening presidential palaces to U.N. arms inspectors, the main condition for avoiding a U.S. attack, Annan’s spokesman said.
The agreement came during a three-hour meeting between Annan and Saddam at the Republican Palace, one of eight presidential sites that Iraq had declared off-limits to U.N. weapons inspectors, said U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard.
Annan and Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, met late Sunday to agree on the precise wording of an agreement the secretary-general will take back to the Security Council.
The crisis over weapons inspections brought the Persian Gulf to the brink of war.
The United States sent a naval armada and 25,000 troops to the region to mount air strikes unless Iraq agrees to open all sites, including eight presidential palaces, to the U.N. weapons inspectors.
Pro-Iraq protests have erupted across the Arab world — Jordan had to send out tanks in one desert city to contain them — and sent Israelis scurrying for gas masks and diplomats there preparing to leave.
Any deal must be endorsed by Washington, which has said it would refuse an agreement that it believes undermines the inspectors’ authority.
White House spokesman Mike McCurry said preliminary accounts had been received from Baghdad, but he declined to assess them. “We’ve got a lot of serious questions. It’s a very serious matter at a serious time, and we want to get some questions answered,” he said.
Annan met with the Iraqi leader after talks with Aziz since Friday failed to resolve the last major obstacle — Iraq’s demand for a time limit on inspections of presidential compounds.
Iraq maintains that granting such access to the very homes of the president trample on its dignity and national sovereignty.
Baghdad also says it has destroyed the proscribed weapons.