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White House, expert skeptical of Iraqi offer

White House, expert skeptical of Iraqi offer

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- As U.N. officials Friday discussed Iraq's offer to resume weapons talks, a U.S. official expressed skepticism over the Iraqi diplomatic move.

"Regime change is our goal," a White House official said.

Iraq sent a letter on Thursday to chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, welcoming talks with him and his experts.

Blix was meeting with his aides Friday, and a top aide to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that while the offer is a positive development, considering the present diplomatic standoff between the United Nations and Iraq, the substance of the offer must be examined.

A U.S. official at the United Nations said the letter is not significant enough because the Iraqis are still not complying with U.N. Security Council resolutions mandating that weapons inspectors be allowed inside the country.

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The Baghdad government is not permitting weapons inspectors in right now, just offering to talk again about the idea, the U.S. official noted.

In Washington, a White House official said any discussion should be "very brief."

"It's clear what Saddam Hussein needs to do to comply with the agreement he made in 1991 to rid his country of weapons of mass destruction. Weapons inspections have always been a means to an end," the official said.

He noted that the U.S. policy of a regime change in Iraq will not change, which President Bush underscored Thursday.

"Saddam Hussein is a man who poisons his own people, who threatens his neighbors, who develops weapons of mass destruction," the president said.

Richard Butler, the U.N.'s former chief weapons inspector, also downplayed the Iraqi offer Friday, indicating it could be an empty maneuver.

"They dusted off a proposal that was 3-1/2 years old that they put to me in 1998, which was a joke. They were told then it was a joke, and they're doing it again. I'm sorry. This is not serious," he said.

Butler said there's only one thing that needs to happen.

"Iraq needs to say, 'OK, we'll do it, the doors are open, bring the inspectors, not people to talk, but the guys with the Geiger counters, the cameras and the instruments,'" he said, so they can prove they don't have such weapons.

"Of course they do. Everyone knows they do, and that's why they're not throwing the doors open. I don't think this leads anywhere."

In early July, the United Nations and Iraq held a third round of unsuccessful talks aimed at the return of weapons inspectors.

Immediately after those talks, Iraq remained insistent that discussions would progress only if issues such as U.S. threats against Iraq, the no-fly zones, and U.N. sanctions against Iraq were on the table.

Inspectors have not been in Iraq since December 1998, when they left in advance of U.S.-British bombing. They have not been allowed to return since.

CNN's Richard Roth and Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report




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