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U.N. caution at Iraq offer

U.N. caution at Iraq offer

UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. has given a cautious welcome to Iraq's offer to allow the chief weapons inspector to visit Baghdad for talks.

But Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned Iraq's agenda was at odds with security council resolutions demanding proper access for weapons inspectors.

The U.S. and UK -- both permanent security council members -- gave the Iraqi proposal a cool reception but Russia, another permanent member of the security council, said the avenue should be explored. (Full story)

Baghdad's offer comes as anti-President Saddam Hussein rhetoric grows in the U.S. and speculation is rife that Washington is planning a military strike against Iraq.

A U.S. official at the United Nations said the letter was not significant enough because the Iraqis were merely talking about talks rather than allowing inspectors to inspect.

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

But the Iraqi letter inviting chief weapons inspector Hans Blix to continue technical talks in Baghdad is the first indication that his team may be allowed to return to the country.

During previous talks Iraq has tied the issue of inspectors to the lifting of sanctions.

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Annan "welcomes the letter," but the plan it outlines is "at variance with the one laid down by the Security Council."

He added the letter "is in line with the agreement to maintain contact including continuing discussions on technical matters."

But Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Al-Douri said he did not see any conflict.

He told The Associated Press: "The ultimate goal for the United Nations is the return of inspectors. Why shouldn't we prepare for that properly?

"Those people need the help of the Iraqi government and the Iraqi government has some problems to discuss."

Weapons inspectors first moved into Iraq after the Gulf War but they left in December 1998, ahead of U.S.-British airstrikes, and have not been allowed back since.

The inspectors' job was to locate and destroy Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and factories used to make chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

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.




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