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08/06/1998 19:50:26 U.S. demands Iraq comply with U.N. inspectors

(Recasts, updates throughout)

By Laurence McQuillan

WASHINGTON, Aug 6 (Reuters) - The White House vowed on

Thursday to "keep the pressure on" Iraq to end its defiance of

U.N. arms inspectors and insisted President Clinton's unfolding

problems with a sex scandal will not weaken U.S. resolve.

The latest round of tensions in the cat-and-mouse game

between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the U.N. Security

Council flared on Wednesday when Iraq abruptly announced it was

suspending cooperation with the U.N. Special Commission that

conducts arms inspections.

Baghdad insists the commission be "reformed" to eliminate

an American influence it blames for prolonging the disarmament

process and sanctions.

At the White House, spokesman P.J. Crowley said Iraq's

"noncompliance is completely unacceptable ... We will not allow

Iraq access to resources necessary to restart their weapons of

mass destruction program."

"We will continue to keep the pressure on until Iraq

complies fully with their obligations," Crowley told

reporters.

State Department spokesman James Foley echoed the U.S.

resolve, saying Saddam "has never succeeded in escaping the

containment that we've successfully maintained and that is not

going to change in the current circumstances either."

Some diplomats and analysts have speculated that the timing

of Saddam's latest actions may be linked in part to the

problems Clinton faces at home in a probe of his relationship

with ex-White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Lewinsky testified Thursday before a federal grand jury

examining whether Clinton lied under oath about having a sexual

relationship with her and then tried to pressure her into

lying. Clinton, who has adamantly denied the allegations,

testifies on August 17.

Some speculate that Saddam might be calculating that

Clinton's embroilment in the Lewinsky scandal may weaken his

resolve or his political authority to use military force in the

Gulf.

During a similar crisis in February, when Iraq expelled

U.S. members of the U.N. inspection team, Clinton threatened to

order air strikes against Iraqi military targets and sent a

large naval force to the Gulf region.

That test of wills came just weeks after the uproar over

Lewinsky began in January, generating predictions among some

political pundits that the Clinton presidency was in danger.

White House spokesman Crowley denied that the Lewinsky

matter has any impact in shaping U.S. policy decisions. "This

is not something that's driven by current events," he said.

"We've been at this for eight years," he said. "This is ...

driven by Saddam and his totally unsuccessful attempt over the

years to evade his international responsibilities."

At the Defense Department, spokesman Ken Bacon said there

were no current plans to increase the size of U.S. forces in

the Gulf, which currently include the aircraft carrier Abraham

Lincoln and 167 warplanes in the region.

"I don't think we are at crisis stage yet," Bacon told

reporters.

He pointed out, however, that the United States has doubled

its number of highly accurate sea-launched Tomahawk cruise

missiles in the Gulf since the spring and could move additional

air power there within 48 hours.

Butler's talks in Baghdad broke down earlier in the week

when he refused to comply with a demand by Iraqi Deputy Prime

Minister Tareq Aziz that he declare that all Iraq's weapons of

mass destruction had been accounted for.

This would have opened the way for the Security Council to

end sanctions, including a ban on oil sales, imposed on Iraq

since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent U.S.-led

military campaign to expel its troops.

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