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President Clinton gave cautious blessings today to a tentative U.N. agreement with Saddam Hussein to avoid a U.S.-led military strike, but he said the Iraqi president must show with actions that his word is good. "The proof is in the testing," Clinton said.
Clinton said in a statement from the Oval Office that he would keep the U.S. military buildup near Iraq in the near term "at high levels of preparation" while inspections of suspected weapons sites proceed.
CBS Evening News anchorman Dan Rather reports that there is at least one paragraph in the deal with Iraq that worries U.S., British, and some U.N. diplomats.
The paragraph says: "UNSCOM undertakes to respect legitimate concerns of Iraq related to national security, sovereignty and dignity."
Some diplomats are reportedly concerned that this paragraph may be interpreted as meaning "anything Saddam wants it to mean," says one high-ranking official.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan obtained the agreement in meetings with the Iraqi president Sunday in Baghdad. He is to present it to the Security Council Tuesday.
Compliance by Saddam, who has reneged on his promises in the past, remains "the big if," Clinton told reporters.
He warned the Iraqi leader that "there will be serious consequences" if he breaks his promise this time.
He suggested that the reluctance on the part of U.S. allies to use force would evaporate under such circumstances.
"I believe if he does not keep its word this time, everyone would understand that then the United States, and hopefully all of our allies, would have the unilateral right to respond at a time, place and manner of our own choosing," Clinton said.
The United States and Britain have demanded unconditional U.N. inspections of all suspect weapons sites, including the eight "presidential sites" from which inspectors have been barred.
"I hope today's agreement will prove to be the step forward that we had been looking for. But the proof is in the testing," Clinton said.
Still, Clinton said that for the first time since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Saddam had promised unfettered access to the presidential sites.
"There are details in this agreement that still have to be fleshed out," Clinton said. But, he said, "my instinct is" that remaining differences can be resolved. "I'm hoping we can, but I'm not prejudging it."
"All Americans should have a positive reaction to the fact that we have a commitment," Clinton said. If Saddam reneges, the president said, b>"then the alternative will be a clear course of action to everyone in the world."
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said Clinton may be "in a box" stuck with a poor agreement he has to accept.
The president said he had a lengthy discussion by phone with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his most steadfast ally in threatening military strikes against Iraq, and planned to call Russian President Boris Yeltsin and French President Jacques Chirac. Clinton also spoke with Annan Sunday night after the U.N. chief struck the agreement with Iraq.
A previous impasse on weapon inspections was resolved in November only to have Iraq shift strategies and restrict inspections in January. The current crisis was spurred by Iraq's refusal to accept American inspectors, accusing them of espionage.
Written by Tom Raum
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