February 10, 2003
Posted at: 11:45 a.m. CST
UNITED NATIONS - Iraq sent a letter to U.N. weapons inspectors Monday approving the use of U.S.-made U-2 surveillance planes and pledged to pass legislation next week outlawing the use of weapons of mass destruction, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations said.
"The inspectors are now free to use the American U-2s as well as French and Russian planes," Ambassador Mohamed al-Douri told The Associated Press.
Iraq had blocked the use of the planes, which inspectors said they needed in their search for banned weapons.
Al-Douri delivered the letter to the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, run at U.N. headquarters by Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector.
Blix was on his way back to New York after a two-day visit to Baghdad, where he met with Iraqi officials in an effort to iron out problems and try to enhance Iraqi cooperation with inspections.
Inspectors had made the issue of the U-2 plane a key demand along with other issues, including Iraq's failure to pass legislation on weapons of mass destruction.
Al-Douri said the legislation would be passed next week and that Iraq would continue to encourage scientists to accept private interviews with inspectors seeking information about Iraq's weapons programs.
The letter was written by Amer al-Saadi, an adviser to Saddam Hussein and Iraq's liaison to the inspectors, al-Douri said.
Blix's counterpart at the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, said earlier Monday that he expected the Iraqis to agree to the reconnaissance flights.
Speaking in Vienna after his return from the Baghdad trip, ElBaradei said that the Iraqis had also agreed to other key demands which he and Blix had pushed for during their trip.
"There was a commitment they will fully comply" with the inspections regime, said ElBaradei, the top nuclear inspector. "We made progress on all the areas we asked for."
He said the Iraqis also promised to pass a law banning proscribed weapons.
"I think we got, at least in the area I'm responsible for — nuclear — commitment for all that we asked for. But we have to test that of course," ElBaradei said.
ElBaradei's spokesman said Iraq had agreed to allow U.N. inspectors to analyze the sites where it claims to have destroyed old chemical and biological weapons.
"Iraq has offered to allow the inspectors to thoroughly investigate and analyze the sites where they claim to have destroyed chemical and biological weapons," said Mark Gwozdecky, the spokesman.
Iraq said the inspectors, accompanied by Iraqi officials, would be allowed to drill and analyze the findings, Gwozdecky said.
Over the weekend, the Iraqis gave the chief inspectors more documents pertaining to Iraq's past chemical and biological weapons, prompting the top inspectors to say they sensed a "good beginning" and a "positive attitude" in Baghdad.