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U.S. dismisses Iraq's offer for dialogue

From Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration Thursday dismissed Iraq's offer of dialogue with the United Nations on weapons inspectors, saying "action is needed" by Baghdad.

In an interview with Abu Dhabi television, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said Iraq was prepared to discuss the return of U.N. weapons inspectors, as long as the talks were without preconditions.

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"We do not believe dialogue ... with the [U.N.] secretariat is over," he said. "We believe dialogue without pre-set decisions and intentions is the correct and only way to solve any problem."

Ramadan wouldn't rule out a dialogue with Washington, provided there are "no terms" to any such talks.

"I do not think we have ever rejected direct dialogue with the U.S. administration," he said. "We want a dialogue in which each of us respects the opinion of the other and does not interfere in internal affairs."

Greg Sullivan, a spokesman for the State Department's Bureau of Near East Affairs, said the Untied States has "seen this kind of request before," and isn't taking it seriously.

"Dialogue will not help them," Sullivan said. "Action is what is needed. More talks are not going to remove the obligations Iraq has been under since the Gulf War. Iraq knows what it needs to do."

Iraq held three rounds of talks with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan this year, all of which failed to secure the return of weapons inspectors. Baghdad also invited chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix for technical talks, but Annan said talks could only take place once the inspectors returned.

Ramadan said that another round of talks with the United Nations have been put on hold "due to U.S. pressure, but we say that this dialogue is still standing and necessary."

His comments appeared to be a move by Iraq to avoid a U.S. military attack. Earlier this week, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al Sahaf also said Iraq was ready to discuss the issue of weapons inspectors with the United Nations.

But even as Ramadan said Iraq was ready to talk about the inspectors' return, he accused the inspectors of wanting to spy against Iraq, and accused Blix of "speaking for the United States."

"If the mass destruction weapons have been destroyed what is the need for inspectors," Ramadan said, adding that the inspectors would try to "spy on the security of Iraq" for the United States.

Ramadan said Iraq was preparing for the "worst," as the Bush administration continues to talk about toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He said he was encouraged that the international community did not support an attack on Iraq.

"We do not ignore these threats. We are preparing all that we can prepare with all of our capabilities," he said. "Should it [the attack] take place they would find a new situation and a new confrontation that they have not faced anywhere."




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