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White House dismisses inspectors' optimism

ElBaradei notes 'change of heart' among Iraqi officials

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix addresses reporters in Baghdad after wrapping up talks with Iraqi officials.
Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix addresses reporters in Baghdad after wrapping up talks with Iraqi officials.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Two days of talks between the chief U.N. weapons inspectors and high-level Iraqi officials gave the inspectors hope that Iraq had finally begun to fully cooperate, but U.S. officials dismissed that hope as too little, too late.

With Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei leaving Baghdad more convinced than ever that the inspections would accomplish Iraq's disarmament peacefully, a Security Council showdown over the next steps appeared unavoidable.

"The ball is very much in Iraq's court," said ElBaradei, adding that he thought he'd seen a "change of heart" among the Iraqis. "If we see quick progress ... then I believe we will be given the time we need to move. As long as we're registering good progress, I think the Security Council in my view will continue to support the inspections process."

But President Bush, speaking at a Republican retreat in West Virginia, said a change of heart was "not good enough."

"The job of the inspectors is not to negotiate with Iraq but to verify whether or not Iraq has weapons of mass destruction," he said.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer," called Iraq a "serial abuser" of U.N. resolutions and said the resolution that sent inspectors back to Iraq in November was a last chance.

"The Iraqis have not had three months to deal with this problem," she said. "They've had 12 years."

Iraq hands over documents

Blix said the Iraqis had handed over documents on "specific, high-profile unresolved issues" including anthrax, the chemical agent VX and missiles. He said U.N. experts in New York would examine the documents Monday and Tuesday.

"I hope I have seen ... a beginning of taking these remaining disarmament issues more seriously," Blix said.

However, Blix repeated comments he has made in past weeks that Iraqi officials were being cooperative on "process" -- granting inspectors access to sites they wanted to visit -- but less cooperative on "substance" -- the resolution of remaining disarmament issues.

Blix and ElBaradei are due to report to the Security Council on Friday.

The United States and Britain are trying to shore up support for military action, with Bush warning that Baghdad has "weeks, not months" to comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, which sent inspectors back into Iraq and demanded Iraq account for and dispose of its weapons of mass destruction.

Key countries opposed to conflict are also looking at how to proceed. After meeting Sunday with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he saw no reason for military action.

"We are sure that we need to continue all efforts for a peaceful resolution of this crisis," Putin said. "At the moment, we don't see any foundation, any cause for the use of force." (Full story)

Putin will meet with French President Jacques Chirac on Monday.

Meanwhile Sunday, Schroeder denied that Germany and France have a joint plan to send U.N. peacekeepers to Iraq in support of weapons inspectors.

"There are no secret plans," the German chancellor said.

German Defense Minister Peter Struck had said earlier Sunday on German television that a Franco-German plan for beefed-up inspections would be presented to the Security Council on Friday.

A French foreign ministry spokesman said France and Germany had no formal plan, though they were discussing how to implement proposals put forward last week by France's foreign minister.

Asked about the proposal on Sunday talk shows, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he had not seen details of the reported plan and couldn't comment directly. But any such plan would not change the intent of Resolution 1441, he said.

"What are these blue-helmeted U.N. forces going to do, shoot their way into Iraqi compounds?" Powell said on ABC.

"It's the wrong issue," he said on NBC. "This idea of more inspectors, or a 'no-fly' zone, or whatever else may be in this proposal that is being developed is a diversion, not a solution."

Both France and Russia are permanent members of the Security Council and have the power to veto any second resolution to authorize military action. Germany holds the rotating presidency.

Iraq insists it has cooperated with inspectors and does not have chemical, nuclear or biological weapons, and says that Bush is determined to declare war on Iraq regardless of the inspectors' results.

Other developments

• Pope John Paul II is dispatching a special envoy to Baghdad with the pope's message of peace, the Vatican said Sunday. The pope named Cardinal Roger Etchegaray , retired president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, to travel Monday to Iraq. The Vatican would not confirm media reports that the cardinal would meet with President Saddam Hussein. Monsignor Franco Copolla of the office of the Vatican's Secretary of State will accompany Etchegaray.

• U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorized Stage One activation Saturday of the Civil Air Defense Fleet, which allows the U.S. military to transport troops and equipment by commercial aircraft. (Full story)

• U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called Saturday for a consensus on any military action against Iraq, saying the disarmament of Saddam's regime is a decision "not for any one state but for the international community as a whole." (Full story)

• Inspection teams visited at least eight sites Sunday, according to Iraq's Ministry of Information, including an ammunition-storage area north of Baghdad and a missile facility south of the Iraqi capital.

-- CNN correspondents Rym Brahimi, Nic Robertson and Dana Bash contributed to this report.

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