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Powell skeptical of Iraqi offer for talks

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell  

MANILA, Philippines (CNN) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell Saturday said he doubted the seriousness of Iraq's offer to resume weapons talks with the United Nations.

"We have seen the Iraqis try to fiddle with the inspection regime before," Powell told reporters in the Philippines during the last leg of his Asian tour.

"There have been several direct conversations between the Iraqis and (U.N. Secretary-General) Kofi Annan, and they understand what is required."

But Powell said the Iraqis are looking "for some way to get out of the clear requirement that they have."

Iraq agreed to dispose of weapons of mass destruction as part of an agreement to end the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Weapons 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.

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Powell said that, while President Bush has supported inspections, the goal in Iraq is not "inspections for inspections' sake." The U.S. goal, he said, is the eradication of weapons of mass destruction.

President Bush echoed Powell's skepticizm Saturday, "I'm a patient man. I'll use all the tools at our disposal. Nothing's changed," Bush told reporters following a campaign fund-raiser for Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Without mentioning Iraq or its president, Saddam Hussein, by name, Bush made it clear during his speech at the event that he believes the country is a threat the United States must deal with.

"We owe it to the future of civilization not to allow the world's worst leaders to develop and deploy -- and therefore blackmail -- freedom-loving countries with the world's worst weapons," the president said.

"I understand history has called us into action, and this country will defend freedom no matter what the cost," Bush said.

The United Nations' former chief weapons inspector, Richard Butler, also downplayed the Iraqi move Friday.

"I don't think this leads anywhere," he said.

Iraq Thursday delivered a letter from Foreign Minister Naji Sabri to chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, which welcomed talks with Blix and his experts.

The United Nations has given a cautious welcome to Iraq's offer, but Annan warned that Iraq's agenda was at odds with Security Council resolutions demanding proper access for weapons inspectors. ( Full story)

The United States and Britain -- both permanent members of the U.N. 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.

Baghdad's offer comes as rhetoric against President Saddam Hussein grows in the United States, and as Bush administration officials and Congress discuss the feasibility of a U.S. military strike against Iraq.

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 U.S. and British patrolled "no-fly" zones, and U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq were on the table.

Coalition aircraft have been patrolling no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq since the end of the Gulf War, forcing Iraqi aircraft to remain grounded.

Hussein launched a policy of challenging enforcement of those zones in late 1998, deploying surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery against the aircraft.




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