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Annan to Iraq: First inspections, then talks

Kofi Annan
Kofi Annan  

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent a letter Tuesday telling the Iraqi government it must submit to weapons inspections under Security Council resolutions before technical negotiations over a disarmament plan can begin.

Annan was responding to a letter last week from Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri to chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix saying that Iraqi officials would like to begin conversations with Blix and his experts.

While he welcomed Sabri's overture, Annan told the Iraqis in his letter they must first allow the inspectors to return before a dialogue on disarmament can take place.

"It is my sincere hope that a speedy resumption of inspections will help facilitate the resolution of all outstanding issues," Annan wrote.

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Annan said Security Council members share his position. He told CNN he hopes the Iraqis will find a way to "become more forthcoming" once they read the message.

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

Weapons inspectors have not been in Iraq since December 1998, when they left amid complaints that they were not being allowed into all sites they wanted to inspect.

Those complaints led to a U.S.-British bombing campaign. The inspectors have not been allowed to return since.

Baghdad's offer came as rhetoric against President Saddam Hussein grows in the United States.

Bush administration officials and members of Congress met Tuesday to discuss the feasibility of a military strike against Iraq.

-- U.N. Correspondent Richard Roth contributed to this report.




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