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Saddam's rejection of high-stakes inspections shows `certain arrogance'

WASHINGTON—Iraq's rejection of any new conditions on U.N. weapons inspections could play into President Bush's hands as both Congress and the United Nations prepare to grapple with the issue this week.

With congressional leaders set to meet Monday to try to iron out differences on a resolution authorizing war, Iraq's combative position could push Congress toward approval of such a resolution, a Democratic senator said Sunday.

Meanwhile, as Iraqi and U.N. officials prepared to meet in Vienna Monday to try to agree on a resumption of weapons inspections, a Security Council member said that Iraq's stance underlines the need for a new and tougher U.N. resolution on Iraq.

The Bush administration is pushing hard for both resolutions. Despite continued objections by a handful of Democrats, a congressional resolution is widely expected to pass, though disagreement remains on the exact wording. The battle in the United Nations is uphill. Many countries want to give Iraq one more chance to prove it has no weapons of mass destruction before passing any resolution that could set the stage for war.

Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said Saturday that his country welcomed weapons inspections under rules that existed when the inspections ceased in 1998, but would reject any new conditions.

The rejection indicated "a certain arrogance" on the part of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said Sunday.

"This latest reaction is not going to help him in my view at all and probably going to bring us closer to support of a resolution in the Senate and in the House," he said on CBS' Face the Nation.

But Reps. David Bonior, D-Mich., Jim McDermott, D-Wash, after meeting with Iraqi officials in Baghdad, said Sunday that both Congress and the United Nations should hold off on any new resolutions until Iraq tries to comply with U.N. weapons inspections.

"They should be given a chance," McDermott said in an interview on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos. "Otherwise, you're just trying to provoke them into war."

Bonior, who said Iraqi officials promised "unrestricted, unfettered" access to inspectors, conceded that the threatening posture taken by the Bush administration probably pushed Iraq to be cooperative on renewing weapons inspections.

"But the reality is that while they're moving forward, we don't need to interrupt the process," he said. "Let's see what happens."

The Bush administration has scoffed repeatedly at Iraq's offer for new inspections, saying that they will be inadequate to verify that Iraq is not developing weapons of mass destruction.

"The president ... is confident that we'll be able to work out with the Congress a bipartisan resolution that is strong, effective and authorizes the use of force," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

One member of the U.N. Security Council, the body that would approve any new resolution there, agrees that the inspections need new conditions.

"I think (Iraq's) reaction is one that brings to the council an idea that a resolution has to be passed," the diplomat said. "The point is that the resolutions that were there didn't work."

The United States, with Britain's support, is trying to get France, Russia and China to agree to a U.S.-drafted resolution before it is brought to the full Security Council. As permanent members of the 15-member council, each of the five has veto power.

France came out loudly against the draft on Friday and reportedly began its own efforts to cultivate support for its position from Russia and China.

Some Security Council members said Iraq's response to the U.S. proposal for tougher conditions is irrelevant to the debate.

"I think we can expect a certain amount of noises as we negotiate," a British diplomat said. "Saddam Hussein is not part of this negotiation."


(c) 2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.