Iraq offer threatens to split U.N.
UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- In a split with the United States, the Russian foreign minister says Moscow wants to see the "speedy return" of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq without new U.N. resolutions.
Iraq offered on Monday to allow weapons inspectors back in "without conditions," but Washington has expressed doubt at the sincerity of the offer.
The Bush administration wants a tough new U.N. resolution outlining what Iraq must do to avoid the threat of military action.
Igor Ivanov said Russia believed the United Nations' main job was to get inspectors back into Iraq under existing U.N. resolutions "without any artificial delays, without any artificial obstacles."
"There are other questions that need to be considered by the Security Council, but I repeat, everyone stressed -- and this is the common view -- that the central thing is the problem of weapons of mass destruction, and the inspectors have to find an answer to this question."
In a letter 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." In addition, the Iraqi government said Tuesday it will present a letter from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to the United Nations later this week.
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 Hussein'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 Hussein 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.
Ivanov acknowledged U.S. concerns, but said, "I think only facts alone should corroborate this. In order to get the facts, we need to bring about the speedy return of the inspectors to Iraq."
Weapons inspectors said Tuesday they're ready to go back into Iraq immediately -- as long as Iraq gives "unconditional and unrestricted" co-operation.
"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."
Secretary-General Kofi 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. Hussein 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.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said American rejection of inspection offer shows that complaints about Iraqi weapons programs were just a "pretext" for a U.S. and British attack on Iraq.
"America ... wants to control the oil in Iraq," said Aziz, speaking at the opening of a "solidarity conference" of nations and officials opposed to war in Iraq. "The only way to control the oil in Iraq is to destroy and divide Iraq and bring in a government like in Afghanistan," he said, referring to the overthrow of the ruling Taliban in that country by U.S. and allied forces.
The White House has invited the top four congressional leaders to a breakfast meeting Wednesday with 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-S.D., and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo. -- are committed to an accelerated timetable.
Daschle called the White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, Monday and said he wants to move quickly on a resolution. Gephardt was planning a similar call Tuesday when his staff received the invitation to the White House breakfast. "His attitude is, let's get it done before the U.N.," said a senior Democratic aide familiar with Gephardt's position.
Not all Democrats are on board, however. Some would prefer to wait until after a U.N. debate.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., 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.
"If it is successful and can bring Iraq under control through this fashion, without a war, without the loss of innocent life, then thank goodness we can consider that alternative and we should pursue it," he said. "If not, then of course there is another day for us to consider the options that may be at our hands and disposal."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said: "We hope that Iraq will comprehensively implement the U.N. resolutions to create the necessary conditions for the orderly and peaceful resolution of the Iraq issue."
Britain, one of U.S. President George W. Bush's most vocal supporters on Iraq, said on Tuesday that Iraq's offer would be met with scepticism.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said the U.N. Security Council would now consider whether a new resolution would still be needed in the light of Iraq's change of heart.
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