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Monday, 5 August, 2002, 23:35 GMT 00:35 UK
Annan urges Iraq to clarify offer
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (right)
Annan (right) has to tread a careful line to the Iraqi offer
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has said he will ask Iraq for further clarifications over its offer of talks to resume UN weapons inspections.

UN weapons inspectors in Baghdad, 1998
UN arms teams have been barred from Iraq since 1998
Speaking after a lunch with UN Security Council members, Mr Annan said he was not rejecting Baghdad's offer for technical talks with chief UN arms inspector Hans Blix, but would write a letter asking Iraq to explain it.

"But there are clarifications, which we have to give to the Iraqis and get them to understand that the council has given certain instructions to Mr Blix as to how proceed."

Mr Annan said Security Council resolutions have already set out the terms for UN inspectors' return, and that there would be more chance of progress if Iraq was willing to proceed on that basis.

"If they accept to work with him [Hans Blix] on that basis the invitation would be looked at in a different light."

Mr Annan also warned that a US attack on Iraq would be unwise, given the current situation in the Middle East.

Washington has already rejected Baghdad's proposal, saying that disarmament rather than inspections were the issue.

On Monday the US also immediately dismissed another Iraqi proposal, inviting the US Congress to sent its team to Baghdad to search for evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

Council divided

Mr Annan said that all 15 Council members had supported moves to get UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq.

Iraqis protest against US war threats in Baghdad
There were angry protests in Iraq condemning the US

"If Iraq is open to that sort of idea, there are practical means for moving forward, and this is something we are going to explore in the next letter," Mr Annan said.

But he said there were what he called shades of emphasis among the Council members.

He said that some wanted to go the extra mile to get inspectors back in, while others viewed the latest overtures from the Iraqis as more gamesmanship.

US Ambassador John Negroponte said all members "felt that the roadmap to renewed inspections, and of course, disarmament of Iraq" was laid down in Security Council Resolution 1284 passed in 1999.

The resolution requires UN weapons inspectors to visit Iraq and then determine what questions Baghdad must answer about its alleged weapons of mass destruction programmes.

But Deputy Ambassador Gennadiy Gatilov of Russia - Iraq's closest ally in the Security Council - said there was "not too much agreement" on the issue.

Among the other members of the Council, France has earlier welcomed the Iraqi offer, while Britain's response was muted.

The UK Foreign Office said Saddam Hussein had a history of "playing games" and that Iraq must allow UN weapons inspectors "unfettered access".

The BBC's Greg Barrow says Mr Annan will have to tread a careful line between welcoming Iraq's apparent flexibility on getting inspectors back, but stressing the need for Baghdad to follow the rules already laid down by the UN Security Council.

Iraqi accusations

Earlier, official newspapers in Iraq strongly criticised American and British responses to Baghdad's offer.

Iraqi rockets filled with sarin, destroyed after the Gulf War
Iraq is suspected of rebuilding its weapons programme

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.

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.

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See also:

05 Aug 02 | Middle East
04 Aug 02 | Middle East
04 Aug 02 | Politics
03 Aug 02 | Middle East
02 Aug 02 | Middle East
30 Jul 02 | Americas
04 Aug 02 | Media reports
05 Aug 02 | Politics
02 Aug 02 | Middle East
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