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Friday, 31 January, 2003, 15:14 GMT
UN sets conditions for Iraq visit
Iraqi soldier by a UN vehicle in Baghdad
The inspectors want to see better co-operation
The UN's chief nuclear arms inspector says Iraq must improve its co-operation with his team before he will accept Baghdad's invitation to return for talks.

Mohamed ElBaradei said Iraq must "move forward" - for example allowing private interviews with its scientists - if he and chief inspector Hans Blix are to attend talks before 10 February.

KEY DATES
31 Jan - Bush meets Blair
5 Feb - Powell to address UN Security Council
14 Feb - Further report from weapons inspectors
27 Mar - Blix submits new report to UN
Mr Blix, meanwhile, has challenged a number of accusations the United States has raised against Iraq, saying he has not seen evidence of deliberate deception by Baghdad.

US President George W Bush is poised for talks on the Iraq crisis with his staunchest ally, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The strategy session at the presidential Camp David retreat has already been dubbed a "council of war" by some observers.

On the eve of this crucial summit, Mr Bush declared that he would give diplomacy "weeks not months" to work.

Private interviews

Baghdad announced on Thursday it was inviting Mr Blix and Mr ElBaradei for talks before they make another progress report to the Security Council on 14 February.

Mohamed ElBaradei
It is very important we meet the highest level of leadership

Mohamed ElBaradei
But Mr ElBaradei said he wanted to meet the "highest level of leadership" and has made it clear that any visit will be conditional on good behaviour from the Iraqis.

In particular, Mr ElBaradei has called on Iraq to fulfil its requirement under the latest Security Council resolution to allow his team to question Iraqi scientists without official minders present.

"Private interviews are very important to create confidence. It is in their own national interest to speak to us directly in private," he said.

He also wants Iraq to agree to overflights by U2 surveillance planes.

US assertions rejected

Although the inspectors have found fault with the level of Iraqi co-operation, Mr Blix has rejected allegations raised by the Bush administration that his inspectors are being deliberately deceived.

Current Security Council
United Nations Security Council
For military action: United States, United Kingdom, Spain and Bulgaria
Sceptics or opposed: France, Russia, China, Germany and Syria
In doubt: Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan
Nine votes and no veto required to pass a resolution
In an interview with the New York Times, he challenged the accusation that Iraqi officials were moving illegal materials to prevent their discovery.

And he said there was no evidence to back US suspicions that scientists were being sent to Syria and other countries to avoid interviews with inspectors, nor that agents were posing as scientists for questioning.

Moreover he rejected suggestions his teams had been infiltrated by Iraqi agents and that intelligence was being leaked.

It has been suggested that some of these allegations may be brought up by US Secretary of State Colin Powell when he presents the Security Council next week with what he says will be new evidence of Iraq's failure to comply with UN demands.

He said he hoped Iraq could be disarmed peacefully, but said the decision lay with the Security Council about using force.

"I think it would be terrible if this comes to an end by armed force... But I also know that diplomacy needs to be backed by force sometimes and inspections need to be backed by pressure," he said.

European backing

Mr Blair arrived in Washington for his talks with Mr Bush after shoring up support among several European countries for the tough US line, which demands that Iraq comply with United Nations resolutions or face the prospect of military action.

Some US politicians, such as senior Democrat Senator Tom Daschle, hope Mr Blair will be a restraining influence on Mr Bush, toning down the president's threats of war.

But the BBC's Guto Harri, travelling with Mr Blair, says the UK leader is expected to reiterate that the US is not alone and that standing firm is the best way to avoid conflict.

The Camp David talks come a day after Mr Blair and seven other European leaders published an article backing a transatlantic alliance to disarm Iraq.

The article also highlighted the gaps between the signatories and France and Germany, which have said they will work together to avoid war. Neither country's leader was offered the chance to sign the article.

Current European Union president Greece also criticised the initiative.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Ian Pannell
"This meeting couldn't be more importamt "
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"Tony Blair has gone the extra mile for George Bush and then another mile more"
Porter Goss, congressman and former CIA officer
"President Bush is committed to act"
Melissa Fleming, IAEA Spokeswoman, Vienna
"ElBaradei and Mr Blix don't want to go to Baghdad to meet for the sake of a meeting"

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30 Jan 03 | Americas
29 Jan 03 | Politics
27 Jan 03 | Americas
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