Iraq Blasts U.S. 'Lies and Empty Propaganda'

Iraq accused the United States on Wednesday of trying to thwart U.N. inspections and said claims it had weapons of mass destruction were "lies and empty propaganda."

In Washington, the White House spokesman said, "Obviously, the cat and mouse games have begun."

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, meanwhile, said American security would only be guaranteed if Washington were to "deal peacefully with world countries. This is the only way the United States can secure the interests of its people."

"America considers the whole world to be its sphere of interest in which to ward off the dangers it puts in its mind," Saddam was quoted Wednesday in the official al-Iraq newspaper. "This theory creates for (America) many enemies and opposition."

Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Washington that the search for hidden arsenals in Iraq should be delayed until the Security Council adopts the tough new rules. They include giving Iraq seven days to agree to disarm and then 23 days to list all sites where weapons are stored, U.S. and U.N. officials have said.

"Our position is that [Chief Inspector Hans Blix] should get new instructions in the form of a resolution," Powell said, adding that the Security Council will consider the resolution without negotiating with Iraq.

In Turkey, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said there was no need for a new U.N. resolution.

"This proposal of the United States is unacceptable, not only by Iraq, it is unacceptable by the Security Council," Aziz told reporters in Ankara.

"The standing resolutions of the Security Council concerning the inspections are valid and they are enough for the perfect performance of the inspectors of their job."

But Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said the old regulations were a failure.

"Clearly, the president believes that any inspection regime that was done the way it was done under previous resolutions is doomed to fail."

Aziz said the real intention behind the U.S. and British push for a tougher inspections regime was to attack Iraq.

"I have always said that the question of weapons of mass destruction raised by the United States and Britain is a pretext to justify the unjustifiable aggression on Iraq," he said.

Aziz also maintained Iraq's arsenal has been destroyed.

"Only the United States is unhappy (with the Vienna agreement) because the United States is afraid that when the inspectors come to Iraq, in the end they will tell the world that Iraq doesn't have any weapons of mass destruction," Aziz said.

In a 29-page rebuttal given to reporters Wednesday in Baghdad, the Foreign Ministry said the weapons allegations were "a series of lies and empty propaganda which are totally inconsistent with the facts and reports by the (U.N. inspectors') Special Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency teams."

"Iraq's capabilities to produce biological, chemical agents were destroyed during the 1991 aggression," the foreign ministry said, referring to the Gulf War in which a U.S.-led coalition forced Iraq to withdraw its invasion force from Kuwait.

Last week, British Prime Minister Tony Blair released a series of files that claimed Saddam of possessed a growing arsenal of chemical and biological weapons and planned to use them. Blair also said Iraq was trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Humam Abdulkhaleq Abdul Ghafoor, a Saddam envoy, said Wednesday during a visit to Indonesia inspectors should return "as soon as possible" to prove Iraq has no hidden weapons.

"We are saying that we don't have such weapons," he said in Jakarta for a meeting with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri. "We are very confident of that, of course."

Iraq maintains it cooperated with the U.N. weapons inspectors during their work in Iraq for more than seven years.

On Tuesday in Vienna, Austria, U.N. inspectors and Iraqi officials agreed on logistics for inspections to resume in Iraq after a four-year break. The inspectors are to search for and dismantle any weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq has said it expected an advance party in Baghdad in two weeks. Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix, who led the Vienna talks for the U.N. team, said an advance team could deploy then with approval from the U.N. Security Council.

Blix will brief the Security Council on the agreement Thursday.

The Vienna deal ignores U.S. demands for access to Saddam's palaces and some of the other tough provisions of the proposed new resolution.

The Security Council remains divided on the U.S. proposal, which also reportedly threatens Iraq with military action if it fails to cooperate with inspectors.

U.N. inspectors withdrew from Iraq in December 1998 ahead of punitive U.S.-British airstrikes amid allegations Baghdad was being uncooperative.

In Cairo, Egypt, Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the 22-nation Arab League, welcomed the deal for the return of inspectors as a "positive step" toward lifting U.N. sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1980 after it invaded Kuwait.

Under U.N. terms ending the war that pushed Iraqi troops out of the tiny Gulf nation, the sanctions cannot be lifted until U.N. weapons inspectors declare Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction.