Iraq barred U.N. weapons inspectors from three military sites in and around Baghdad today, citing security reasons.
Iraq said, however, that a U.N. Security Council team composed of diplomats could visit the sites as long as it did not include military experts. The U.N. teams currently in Iraq are made up largely of weapons experts.The proposal was made by Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz in a statement carried by the official Iraqi News Agency. It was Iraq's first official comment since a standoff developed Tuesday between U.N. weapons inspectors and Iraqi officials just west of Baghdad.
Aziz said the inspectors demanded Tuesday to visit eight industrial and military sites in Abu Ghraib, 15 miles west of Baghdad. They were allowed into six.
Iraq barred the inspectors from the other two sites for "national security considerations," and also refused the inspectors' demand today to enter a base of the elite Republican Guards in Baghdad, Aziz said.
He said Iraq was concerned that the U.N. missions "have become of an aggressive nature... for espionage purposes."
Weapons inspectors at the Baghdad offices of the U.N. Special Commission declined comment.
U.N. officials in New York said the standoff developed when inspectors tried to enter a military site believed linked to a clandestine nuclear weapons program.
The Security Council circulated a draft resolution late Tuesday demanding that Iraq grant the inspectors "immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access" to any site they wished to inspect. A vote was expected today.
The standoff was the first since the United Nations agreed last month to let Iraq sell $2 billion of oil over six months to buy food and medicine for its people.
Sweeping sanctions imposed in August 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait have helped drive the once-affluent country of 20 million people into poverty.
The Security Council says the sanctions will remain in place until Iraq complies with international resolutions adopted after the 1991 Persian Gulf War that routed the Iraqi army from Kuwait.
These include the elimination of Iraq's arsenal of nonconventional weapons and its ability to produce them.
One U.N. team is working with Iraqi officials to destroy the Al-Hakam biological weapons plant, 50 miles southwest of Baghdad. The operation, which began three weeks ago, has proceeded smoothly and is expected to be completed by next week.
Another team that arrived this week consists mainly of ballistic missile experts.
The Iraqi news agency said there are currently 57 U.N. inspectors in Baghdad. They include 22 Americans and eight Britons.