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Saudi Foreign Minister Calls for Iraq to Admit Weapons Inspectors

The Saudi foreign minister urged Iraq Sunday to quickly allow the return of U.N. weapons inspectors to head off a Security Council resolution that could open the way for military attacks.

"Timing is important, and allowing inspectors back before a Security Council resolution to that effect would be in Iraq's favor," Prince Saud al-Faisal was quoted as saying in the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat.

"We are afraid that (a refusal) would harm the Iraqi people and increase their burden. We are worried about Iraq's unity, stability and independence," al-Faisal said.

In New York Saturday, envoys from Arab League issued a similar plea during the General Assembly, saying Iraq should heed international calls to allow inspectors back and avert a confrontation with the United States that could further destabilize the Middle East.

Arab League ministers said Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri told them Saturday that Iraq was ready to let the inspectors return but not before certain conditions were met. The United Nations has rejected any conditions.

President Bush, who accuses Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, has proposed a new U.N. Security Council resolution that would set a short deadline for a resumption of inspections and threaten action if Iraq does not comply. Bush also has said the United States would act unilaterally if Iraq continued its defiance and the international community did not respond.

U.N. Security Council resolutions passed after the 1991 Gulf War say Iraq must eliminate weapons of mass destruction, and the means to produce them. Iraq claims to have done so, but it has refused to admit U.N. arms inspectors since 1998.

Al-Faisal said that Iraq's denial that it has or plans to build weapons of mass destruction means it has nothing to fear from inspectors.

"What is wrong in allowing them back and put all this to an end? We believe it would be a wise move," al-Faisal said.