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Friday, 2 August, 2002, 09:29 GMT 10:29 UK
Iraq offers arms inspections talks
UN weapons inspectors in Baghdad in 1998
UN arms teams have been barred from Iraq since 1998
Iraq has invited the United Nations chief weapons inspector to visit Baghdad for talks about the resumption of arms inspections after a break of four years.

The policy of this administration is regime change

George W Bush
The offer, made in a letter to the UN secretary general, came amid growing speculation about an attack on Iraq by the United States, which alleges that President Saddam Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said the chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, and his experts were welcome to come to Iraq for "technical talks", with a view to resuming weapons inspections. The UN has yet to comment on the invitation.

But the UK Foreign Office was sceptical, saying Saddam Hussein had "a long history of playing games" and that the conditions on Iraq were clear - unfettered access for inspectors, "any time, any place, anywhere".

US President George W Bush said on Thursday that he had not changed his view that a change of regime was needed in Iraq.

His comments came after former UN weapons inspector Richard Butler had said that Iraq was producing biological and chemical weapons - and might be close to developing a nuclear bomb.

Iraqi offer

The BBC's Greg Barrow in New York says Iraq's invitation will be interpreted as a possible first step towards the return of UN weapons inspectors.

Iraqi rockets filled with sarin, destroyed after the Gulf War
Iraq is suspected of rebuilding its weapons programme
The arms teams have been barred from Iraq since they left in 1998, saying that Iraqi officials were not co-operating.

Verification of Iraqi weapons programmes is a key condition for the lifting of UN sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.

The international community has put pressure on the Iraqi leader to allow the inspectors back in and the US has threatened to use force unless weapons inspections resume.

The letter - news of which came on the eve of the 12th anniversary of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait - says preliminary talks would aim to establish a solid basis for the next stage of monitoring and inspection activities.

But, correspondents say, diplomats at the UN have had their hopes raised and dashed before.

King Abdullah of Jordan meets George Bush
King Abdullah opposes military action against Iraq
Iraqi flexibility tends to wax and wane in tune with the level of threats from nations such as the US, they say.

Thursday saw Mr Bush rebuff concerns by Jordan's King Abdullah over the danger of going to war with Iraq.

Sitting alongside the Jordanian monarch in the White House Oval Office, Mr Bush said King Abdullah would "find out that I haven't changed my mind" about removing the Iraqi president.

Mr Bush said the Iraqi Government was "poisonous" and that "the policy of my government, our government, of this administration is regime change".

The day also Mr Bush renew the US economic embargo against Iraq, telling Congress that Baghdad "has continued to engage in activities hostile to US interests".

Attack 'a mistake'

Jordan, one of America's closest Arab allies and a neighbour of Iraq, has sought to dissuade America from taking military action against Iraq.

Everybody is saying this is a bad idea

King Abdullah of Jordan
In an interview with Washington Post newspaper, King Abdullah said that attacking Iraq would be a "tremendous mistake".

"In all the years I have seen in the international community, everybody is saying this is a bad idea," he said.

Instead of declaring war on Saddam Hussein, King Abdullah said he would rather make an all-out effort to get Iraq to agree to let weapons inspectors back in.

In Congress, a key Senate committee heard analysts warn that a post-Saddam Iraq could fall into chaos if the US and other nations were not prepared to take an active, expensive role in rebuilding it.

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iraq was told that any new leadership to replace Saddam Hussein was unlikely to come from within the country.

"After 30 years of repression, there is no political life in Iraq outside Saddam's leadership and Saddam's family," said Rend Rahim Francke of the Iraq Foundation, a Washington-based pro-democracy group.

The BBC's Steve Kingstone
"Saddam Hussein has played a classic diplomatic chess move"
Jordan's King Abdullah
"The potential of a military strike on Iraq without a clear endgame I think concerns everybody"
Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter
"The Iraqis understand they will have to let weapons inspectors back in"

Key stories





See also:

02 Aug 02 | Americas
01 Aug 02 | Media reports
01 Aug 02 | Politics
01 Aug 02 | Middle East
01 Aug 02 | Americas
01 Aug 02 | Americas
30 Jul 02 | Americas
15 May 02 | Middle East
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