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US and UN Inspectors Divided over Inspections in Iraq
The US government and chief United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq were worlds apart on Tuesday over who should take the responsibility for continuing weapons inspections, suspended during the war, in Iraq.

At a closed-door meeting with the UN Security Council, chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix voiced confidence that the council would want his inspection team to return to Iraq.

"In the absence of guidance to the contrary from the council, it would be our intention to submit a next quarterly UNMOVIC (UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission) report for the period March 1 to June 1," Blix said.

Blix stressed that the mandate for his work remains unchanged and he will do the inspection work independently.

"The inspecting authorities would need to remain independent of all individual governments and authorities to retain international credibility in their work for the council," he told the Security Council.

The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, told the Security Council meeting, through a statement, that the IAEA should resume its inspections in Iraq as soon as possible.

"The IAEA continues to be the sole organization with legal powers -- derived from both the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and successive Security Council resolutions -- to verify Iraq's nuclear disarmament," said Dr. ElBaradei, who did not attend the meeting. "We await the guidance of the Council as to the modalities of our return."

However, the United States on the same day dismissed proposals to return UN weapons inspectors to Iraq soon, setting the stage for a fresh confrontation with other UN Security Council members on the world body's role in post-war Iraq.

"We are looking forward, not backwards. Saddam Hussein's regime is gone, and we will need to re-assess the framework design to disarm the regime given the new facts on the ground," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said at a regular press briefing.

The coalition was taking on the responsibility for dismantling Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction and would continue to carry out the responsibility, Fleischer said.

US Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte also told reporters in New York that the United States and Britain have "assumed responsibility for the disarming of Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction."

"For the time being and for the foreseeable future, we see that as a coalition activity," he said after the Security Council meeting with Blix.

In Iraq, a prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric was set free after being briefly detained by US forces.

The Iraqi cleric, Ayatollah Mohamed Taqi Al-Madrsi, was released soon after being detained near the central city of Karbala Tuesday evening, al-Jazeera TV channel reported.

Just back from neighboring Iran after 32 years in exile, Al-Madrsi was stopped with his convoy at a checkpoint near the Shiite holy city of Karbala and was then detained alongside dozens of his followers. He was let go after intense contact between US-led troops and Al-Hawza Al-Ilmiya, an Iraqi Shiite institution.

Elsewhere in the Arab world, a whirlwind of diplomacy continued to try to ensure a postwar Iraq will not tilt toward the United States.

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal called for an end to military occupation and the establishment of a broad-based Iraqi government as soon as possible.

Faisal told a press briefing that in dealing with the new situation in postwar Iraq, Saudi Arabia has been active diplomatically by coordinating with Egypt, Jordan, Syria, France, Britain, Bahrain and other countries.

"All the diplomatic efforts done by Saudi Arabia are based on one goal: to safeguard Iraq's sovereignty, territorial integrity and stability, and guarantee the Iraqi people's right to self-determination," the Saudi foreign minister said.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher will meet with Iraqi opposition figure Adnan Pachachi in Cairo on Wednesday.

Maher and Pachachi, who served as Iraqi foreign minister from 1965 to 1967 and has been in exile since 1970, will discuss the current situation in Iraq and the country's future, the ministry said.

Speaking to reporters in Kuwait on Saturday, the 80-year-old Iraqi veteran said he hopes that a broad-based conference will be held in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad to elect an interim authority to pave the way for free elections in the war-torn country.

Jordanian King Abdullah II said during his meeting with visiting Secretary General of the League of Arab States Amr Mahmoud Moussa that the future of Iraq and the shape of its leadership should be determined by Iraqi people.

The king voiced Jordan's support for the Iraqi people's right to form a national government that can preserve the unity and sovereignty of the Iraqi territories.

(Xinhua News Agency April 23, 2003)

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