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Sunday, 4 August, 2002, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
UN arms chief sets Iraq conditions
UN weapons inspectors in Baghdad in 1998
UN arms teams have been barred from Iraq since 1998
The United Nations chief arms inspector has said he is not planning to go to Iraq for talks about renewed inspections until Baghdad approves the return of his team.

In comments published on Sunday in the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat, Hans Blix said such a visit would only raise expectations and potentially create a crisis if talks broke down between him and Iraqi officials.

The situation would be much worse if I went to Baghdad and then talks broke down

Hans Blix
In a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri gave the first indication that Iraq might allow the inspectors to return.

Mr Blix's remarks to Al-Hayat came before that letter inviting him to Baghdad was received.

The UN Security Council is to discuss the offer on Monday.

Mr Annan has given the letter a cautious welcome, but said it was at odds with security council procedures.

The US has scorned the offer, insisting that its policy towards Iraq - including the removal of Saddam Hussein as leader - has not changed as a result.

Government-run papers in Iraq have criticised the American response, calling for the UN to stand up to US "aggressiveness" and accusing the US of using the disarmament issue to achieve "evil colonial goals".

US committed to Saddam removal

"Psychologically, I think it would be better that an official of my political standing does not go to Baghdad before they (the Iraqis) accept inspections, " Mr Blix - a 74-year-old Swedish diplomat and arms control expert - was quoted as saying.

Hans Blix
Blix's UNMOVIC has not yet set foot in Iraq
Mr Blix was appointed more than two years ago to take charge of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission - which was set up to replace the old verification group known as Unscom, but has not yet set foot in Iraq.

Unscom inspectors were withdrawn from Baghdad on the eve of a US and British bombing campaign in 1998 after months of wrangling over access and co-operation.

Arms inspection timeline
Feb 1991: Gulf War ends - Iraq subjected to UN sanctions and arms inspections
Jan 1998: Iraq blocks mission, accuses inspectors of spying for US
Feb 1998: Kofi Annan reaches deal with Baghdad
Oct 1998: Iraq ceases co-operation with Unscom
Nov 1998: Inspectors return to Iraq
Dec 1998: UN pulls out inspectors - US air strikes begin
Dec 1999: Unscom replaced by Unmovic
Jul 2002: UN-Iraq talks end without deal
Aug 2002: Iraq invites Unmovic chief to Baghdad
Speculation has been growing about a possible attack on Iraq by the US, which alleges that Saddam Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction.

In his first public response to the Iraqi offer on Saturday, US President George W Bush said nothing had changed in his policy towards Iraq.

"I'm a patient man. I'll use all the tools at our disposal to make sure Iraq cannot develop weapons of mass destruction and threaten the United States," he said.

Earlier, Mr Bush's Secretary of State Colin Powell accused the Iraqi leader of trying to stall for time, saying that disarmament rather than inspections were the issue.

Hostility and aggression

Iraqi newspapers criticised the US stand as well as Britain's dismissal of the talks proposal.

Washington's rejection of the invitation "demonstrated a hostile attitude that has nothing to do with the results of the UN or the issue of the return of the inspectors", said al-Thawra, the paper of Iraq's ruling Baath party.

It urged representatives of the UN Security Council - which is due to discuss the issue this week - and all UN members to "stand up to this destructive, aggressive American tendency and strongly back Iraq's new initiative.

Babel, the paper run by Saddam Hussein's son Uday said that there could be no disarmament without inspections.

The American-British position towards the Iraqi move "proves that what they are trying to achieve has nothing to do with inspections or non-existent weapons of mass destruction", it said.

"They are trying to hide behind a worn-out curtain of false claims to achieved despied colonial goals that are rejected by the international community," Babel said.

The BBC's Richard Forrest
"President Bush... said nothing had changed"

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See also:

03 Aug 02 | Middle East
02 Aug 02 | Middle East
02 Aug 02 | Politics
01 Aug 02 | Middle East
30 Jul 02 | Americas
27 Jan 00 | Middle East
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