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Iraq vows to prove arms were destroyed

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Iraq promised Saturday to provide visiting chief U.N. arms inspector Richard Butler with evidence that it has complied with a U.N. weapons ban.

Neither Butler nor Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz commented publicly after a first round of talks Saturday, but delegation officials suggested that progress had been made.Iraqi weapons officials said a team of U.N. arms monitors had unearthed enough parts from weapons to verify Iraq's claims that it destroyed and buried its biological and chemical missile warheads.

The pieces were gathered by a team of 27 experts under German Jean Jan at al-Nibai, 28 miles north of the capital Baghdad, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The parts are sufficient to reconstruct 48 warheads Iraq unilaterally scrapped in 1991, they said.

U.N. officials in Baghdad confirmed that parts were recovered but said they required analysis.

Butler, who arrived in Baghdad on Thursday accompanied by 18 U.N. arms experts, met with Aziz later Saturday after lower-level technical talks. No details were released about their second session.

Butler and his team believe that Iraq is still concealing key information on its banned weapons programs.

Iraq insists it has destroyed all its weapons of mass destruction and says Butler's demands are politically motivated.

"Circumstances have changed and the tide is running against Mr. Butler," said Al-Jumhouriya, an Iraqi government newspaper. "During the current meetings, Iraq will supply more evidence to prove that Butler's mission in Iraq has ended."

Earlier this year, the United States and Britain threatened air strikes if Iraq refused to open its presidential sites to U.N. inspections. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan brokered a deal to open the palaces to inspections.

Butler has said that he came to Baghdad with a list of what Iraq must do to satisfy the arms inspectors.

The list specifies that Iraq must hand over information on long-range missiles, prove it has scrapped biological and chemical warheads, and fully account for its production of VX nerve gas.

The U.N. inspectors must certify that Iraq has eliminated its weapons of mass destruction before the Security Council will consider lifting the sweeping economic sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.