UNITED NATIONS -- In a surprise decision late Sunday, the Security Council agreed to give the United States, Russia, France, China and Britain full access to Iraq's arms declaration, U.N. officials and diplomats said.
The decision overrides one made Friday to distribute censored copies to the council and means that Washington won't have to wait to begin it's own analysis and translation of the 12,000 pages Iraq turned over to weapons inspectors on Saturday in Baghdad.
Under Sunday's agreement, the other 10 council members, including Syria, will only see the declaration once it is translated, analyzed and gleaned of sensitive material -- including possible instructions on bomb-making.
The decision was announced by Colombian Ambassador Alfonso Valdivieso, the current Security Council president, who met with chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix late Sunday, several hours after Iraq's long-awaited dossier arrived at U.N. headquarters.
"After consultation with the members of the Security Council, the presidency decided to allow access to the Iraqi declaration to those members with the expertise to assess the risk of proliferation and other sensitive information to begin its immediate review," he said.
U.N. officials said the only countries with that level of expertise are the five permanent members.
Valdivieso said the experts would work "in close coordination and consultation," with weapons inspectors and "will assist them in producing a working version of the declaration as soon as possible."
According to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, largely drafted by the Bush administration and passed on Nov. 8, any omission or false statement that Iraq makes in the declaration would constitute a "material breach," a distinction which could open the door for another war against Saddam Hussein.