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French Official Calls Iraq Benign

NICOLE WINFIELDSeptember 23, 1998

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Iraq’s capabilities to threaten its neighbors are virtually nonexistent after seven years of intense, intrusive U.N. arms inspections, France’s foreign minister said Wednesday.

``It’s a broken country in that respect,″ Hubert Vedrine told reporters. ``So what’s at stake is its capacity to rebuild ... to become a threat.″

The comments, made ahead of his address to the U.N. General Assembly, come at a time when U.N. inspections have been paralyzed by Baghdad’s Aug. 5 decision to stop working with U.N. weapons inspectors.

Chemical weapons experts were also arriving at the United Nations to report on tests conducted by Swiss and French labs on missile parts suspected of having traces of the deadly VX agent.

A U.S. lab found traces of the gas, but diplomats say unofficial results from the European laboratories have been inconclusive.

Iraq has said it tried to produce the gas but was never able to make enough of it, or stabilize it properly, to load it into missile warheads.

U.N. weapons experts must certify that Iraq has destroyed its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons _ and the long-range missiles to deliver them _ before the Security Council will lift sanctions imposed after Baghdad touched off the Gulf War when it invaded Kuwait in 1990.

France, along with Russia and China, has generally taken a more sympathetic view towards Iraq in council discussions and pushed to switch the inspections of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program to a less intrusive monitoring phase.

In his speech to the assembly, Vedrine said Iraq must comply with U.N. resolutions calling for the ``controlled dismantlement″ of its weapons of mass destruction _ and nothing more _ before sanctions will be lifted.

``Once that objective is achieved, our aim must be to reinsert Iraq into the international community,″ he said.

Vedrine downplayed differences with the United States over how to deal with Iraq’s disarmament, telling reporters ``there is no conceptual disagreement with the U.S. on this.″

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