WASHINGTON -- Top Bush administration officials said that United Nations-led inspections of suspected Iraq weapons facilities were proceeding without problems.
Acting Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger, appearing on a CBS morning news broadcast yesterday, confirmed reports from Baghdad that the first inspections had begun since a three-week standoff last month at the Iraqi Agriculture Ministry. "There was no attempt to stop [the inspections]," Mr. Eagleburger said.
Recently, an Iraqi government official was quoted as saying further U.N. inspections of ministry buildings would not be allowed. Yesterday, U.S. national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, appearing on an ABC television show, said he "wouldn't rule out" the need for other ministries to be inspected.
Asked whether Iraqi delays in inspections would be permitted, Mr. Scowcroft said such delays would be "rather shorter" than the one that took place at the Agriculture Ministry in Baghdad earlier this summer.
A new team of U.N. experts looking for weapons secrets in Baghdad said they gained unhindered access to Iraqi sites yesterday but would not say whether they tested an Iraqi ban on inspections at ministries.
"We went where we wanted to go" and the team saw what it wanted to see while accompanied by Iraqi officials, said team leader Nikita Smidowitch of Russia. "I will not disclose our findings."
He also replied, "No comments," when asked to give details of the sites visited by the 22-member team of experts in ballistic missiles and in nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
Mr. Smidowitch also said Americans were treated no differently from other members of the team. Iraqi officials charged that U.S. members of previous teams were spies.
"There was no distinction in our team. All were treated in the same way," Mr. Smidowitch said. He also said relations between the Iraqis and the team members were normal. "That was a normal inspection day."
U.N. experts usually search buildings and sites at the last minute to prevent what they see as the risk of Iraqi authorities' removing material and information.
In related news, U.S. Marines conducting joint maneuvers in Kuwait suffered their first casualties yesterday with the death of a two-man helicopter crew in a crash, the Navy said.
The cause of the crash is under investigation, but the statement said an unarmed Cobra helicopter was conducting a routine training flight at the time of the accident.
About 1,900 Marines landed in Kuwait last Tuesday to take part in desert exercises with their Kuwaiti counterparts. The joint exercises are scheduled to last through Saturday.
In other news, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on Saturday praised military chiefs who retook territory from Iran during the 1980-88 war, the official INA news agency reported.