Weapons inspectors meet with Iraq
UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- The head of the U.N. weapons inspection team met with an Iraqi delegation Tuesday in what a Baghdad official called "useful and fruitful" discussions on the return of weapons inspectors.
Both sides agreed to meet again in 10 days in Vienna, Austria, to "finalize the practical arrangement," Iraqi ambassador Saeed Hasan said.
The meeting between Hans Blix, the chairman of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, and Iraqi representatives from Baghdad followed Iraq's announcement Monday that it would allow the return of weapons inspectors "without conditions." The meeting lasted about an hour.
He also said the delegation "reiterated and expressed the eagerness of Iraq for the speedy and smooth resumption" of weapons inspections. He said Blix gave him a document during the meeting, although he did not elaborate on what it contained.
"We are looking forward to meeting [again] with Ambassador Blix and UNMOVIC officials to finalize their work and go ahead in order to implement fully all the provisions of Security Council resolutions in order to lift sanctions and return the situation to normal."
The meeting was held amid warnings from President Bush that the world body "must not be fooled."
Asked when the inspectors might return, Hasan said, "It depends on Mr. Blix's arrangements."
In a letter delivered Monday to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Iraq said it would allow the return of weapons inspectors to "remove any doubts Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction." (Text of letter)
In addition, the Iraqi government said Tuesday it will present a letter from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to the United Nations this week.
The talks Tuesday afternoon were expected to cover transportation and communication issues concerning the possible resumption of inspections.
The developments highlight U.S. officials' skepticism about the sincerity of Iraq's offer. The Bush administration wants a tough new U.N. resolution outlining what Iraq must do to avoid the threat of military action.
Speaking in Tennessee, Bush said the Security Council "must act in a way to hold this regime to account and must not be fooled -- must be relevant to keep the peace."
The U.S. has legitimate concerns about Iraq's weapons programs, but the U.N needs some evidence before approving any resolutions, said Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. On Tuesday, he called for the "speedy return" of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq.
"I think only facts alone should corroborate this," he said. "In order to get the facts, we need to bring about the speedy return of the inspectors to Iraq."
Ivanov said Russia believes the international organization's main job is to get inspectors back into Iraq under existing U.N. resolutions "without any artificial delays, without any artificial obstacles."
Powell: 'We have seen this game before'
The Iraqi offer appeared to have dealt a blow to U.S. efforts to seek a consensus on Iraq among the Security Council's permanent members. Secretary of State Colin Powell said international pressure on Iraq prompted its offer to let inspectors return, and he urged U.N. members to continue that pressure.
"We have seen this game before," Powell said. What is needed now he said, is "a new road, a different road than we have seen in the past, with tough conditions, tough standards ... to make sure we satisfy the need for disarmament."
President Bush told the U.N. General Assembly last week that it must require Saddam's regime to comply with resolutions passed during the past 11 years, and that action -- either from the United Nations or the United States -- must be the response if Saddam fails to comply.
"The United States will remain strong in our conviction that we must not and will not allow the world's worst leaders to hold the United States and our friends and allies blackmail or threaten us with the world's worst weapons," Bush said Tuesday during a campaign event in Tennessee.
Weapons inspectors said Tuesday they're ready to go back into Iraq immediately -- as long as Iraq gives "unconditional and unrestricted" cooperation.
"Without conditions is a key phrase that we've been looking for," International Atomic Energy Agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said. "Without conditions means that our inspectors can operate under terms where we can immediately have access -- unconditional and unrestricted access -- to sites that we want to visit." (Full story)
Annan said Iraq should understand that "this is not going to be business as usual or a repeat of what happened in the past."
The Bush administration said that if and when inspectors return it will be at the demand of the United States and United Nations -- not at Iraq's invitation. Saddam has in the past repeatedly "used stalling tactics and delays even as he continues to arm and hide," a senior White House official told CNN.
Washington wants a U.N. resolution that demands compliance not only on the issue of disarmament but also on Iraq's other commitments to the U.N., including an end to repression of minorities within Iraq, reparations to Kuwait, an accounting of missing military personnel from coalition forces during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the use of money raised from the oil-for-food program for humanitarian purposes.
Bush to consult Congressional leaders
The White House has invited the top four congressional leaders to a breakfast meeting Wednesday with President Bush, and sources said the main topic of discussion would be the language and timing of a congressional resolution backing the administration's Iraq policy.
The Democratic leaders -- Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Missouri -- are committed to an accelerated timetable.
Daschle predicted Tuesday that Congress would vote on the resolution "well before the election." (Full story)
Not all Democrats are on board, however. Some would prefer to wait until after a U.N. debate.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, said Bush should "respond accordingly" to Monday's Iraqi offer and give the United Nations the opportunity to act. But some in his administration "will not take yes for an answer," Durbin warned.
Around the world, government officials speculated about whether the Iraqi offer would be successful in forestalling military action against Saddam's regime. In Britain, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said the Iraqi government "had a long history of playing games." (Full story)
In a speech Tuesday, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz appeared to signal that the new Iraqi offer would not end the war of words between his nation and the United States.
"America ... wants to control the oil in Iraq," Aziz told the opening session of a Baghdad conference of nations and officials opposed to war in his country. "The only way to control the oil in Iraq is to destroy and divide Iraq and bring in a government like in Afghanistan." (Full story)
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