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Rumsfeld calls Iraq overture 'a dance'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Tuesday characterized the latest overture by Iraq to cooperate with the United Nations on weapons inspections as "a dance they engage in."

"They have, over a good many years, demonstrated a wonderful talent and skill at manipulating the media and international organizations in other countries," Rumsfeld told reporters.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said Tuesday that Iraq is "ready to cooperate with the United Nations and we are ready to explain our position."

Following a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan during the Earth Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, Aziz said his government was ready to consider the return of U.N. weapons inspectors.

But he attached several conditions, including an end to international sanctions, an end to the "no-fly zones" over northern and southern Iraq, and an end to the talk of war coming from Washington.

"If you want to find a solution, you have to find a solution to all these matters," Aziz said.

"If the issue of so-called weapons of mass destruction are a genuine concern by the United States, this matter could be dealt with reasonably, equitably."

Annan told CNN he wants to "keep the dialogue going. It's another step in a series of talks."

He said he did not expect more meetings in South Africa with Aziz, but the debate will continue at the United Nations.

Rumsfeld said history has shown Iraq would withdraw such offers at the "last moment" and then go "back into their other mode of thumbing their nose at the international community."

"We know that they have rejected inspections. We know they have not lived up to their obligations under the U.N. resolutions and the agreements that they signed at the conclusion of the Gulf War," he said.

Rumsfeld also sought again to show the magnitude of the threat posed by Iraq.

He said Saddam Hussein had an "enormous appetite" for nuclear weapons in 1998 when U.N. inspectors withdrew, and Iraq was "very close" to developing such weapons at that time.

"One has to assume they've not been playing tiddlywinks, and that they have been focusing on nuclear weapons," the defense secretary said.

He hinted the United States might soon release secret intelligence to back up its belief that Iraq has continued to develop its weapons of program.

"We know some other things, but those are the kinds of things that would come out if and when the president decides that he thinks it's appropriate," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld also said talk of dissension in the Bush camp was "baloney."

"What's important is what the president says, and what's important is what the president decides," he said.




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