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Tuesday, 5 February, 2002, 19:59 GMT
Powell 'rejects' Iraq talks
UN arms team leaving Baghdad, November, 1998
Iraq has refused to allow weapons inspectors to return
The US Secretary of State Colin Powell has reacted coldly to Iraq's offer of "dialogue", repeating his demand that United Nations weapons inspectors be allowed to return.

On Monday, Iraq said it was ready to meet UN Secretary General Kofi Annan for talks "without preconditions".

US Secretary of State Colin Powell
Powell: "The inspectors have to go back in."
But Mr Powell told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that any discussion with Iraq should be "very short".

Mr Powell said the inspectors had to go back in, under the UN Security Council's terms and no one else's.

"The burden is upon this evil regime to demonstrate to the world that they are not doing the kinds of things that we suspect them of," he said.

Stalled talks

Iraq has accused the inspectors of spying, but the US secretary of state said if Baghdad did not have programs to develop weapons of mass destruction, it should not be hesitant to admit them back.

The Iraqis [are] prepared to resume dialogue with the secretary general

Kofi Annan's office

Iraq's talks offer came in a message from President Saddam Hussein to Mr Annan - conveyed by the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa.

Mr Annan said he would meet an Iraqi delegation to discuss the issue of UN Security Council resolutions.

His spokesman told the French news agency AFP that the return of UN arms inspectors was not negotiable.

Talks between the UN chief and Iraqi officials broke off a year ago after Baghdad laid down conditions for resuming discussions, including an end to sanctions imposed after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

'Axis of evil'

The development comes amid mounting speculation that the United States is planning to widen its war against terrorism beyond Afghanistan to include Iraq.

< In his State of the Union address last week, President George W Bush said Iraq was part of an "axis of evil" of countries believed to be developing weapons of mass destruction.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
Kofi Annan will meet Iraqi officials
Iraq has refused to allow weapons inspectors back, since they were evacuated by the UN shortly before US and British military strikes in December 1998.

The former head of the UN Special Commission on Iraq (Unscom), Richard Butler, has voiced concern that even if inspectors are allowed back into Iraq they will be prevented from working effectively.

The UN Security Council says sanctions on Iraq can only be lifted after it is satisfied Iraq is no longer seeking to produce chemical, nuclear or biological weapons.

Toby Dodge, Iraqi sanctions expert
"The Iraqis are worried"
See also:

05 Feb 02 | Middle East
UN says Iraq ready for talks
04 Feb 02 | Americas
US renews attack on 'evil axis'
17 Jan 02 | Americas
Bush warns Iraq over arms
18 Dec 01 | Middle East
US builds support against Iraq
10 Dec 01 | Middle East
UN chief warns against Iraq attack
22 Nov 01 | Middle East
Iraq fears US military attacks
08 Nov 01 | Middle East
Powell says Iraq may be next target
30 Oct 01 | Middle East
Iraq condemns US 'aggression'
28 Oct 01 | Middle East
Rumsfeld: Iraq may be target
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