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Saturday, 3 August, 2002, 04:32 GMT 05:32 UK
Powell dismisses Iraq inspection offer
US Secretary of State Colin Powell (centre) at the Manila airport
Powell said Iraq tries to "fiddle" with inspections
US Secretary of State Colin Powell has dismissed an offer by Iraq to re-open talks with United Nations weapons inspectors as an attempt to "move the goalposts".


They understand what is required of them and there is no need for further clarification or discussion

Colin Powell
"The goal is not inspections for inspections' sake, the goal has to be disarmament and removal of all capacity for weapons of mass destruction," Mr Powell said in Manila at the start of his visit to the Philippines.

"The Iraqis have constantly tried to find their way around their obligations with respect to inspections."

"They understand what is required of them and there is no need for further clarification or discussion," Mr Powell said, adding that the US continued to insist on regime change in Baghdad.

Brief talks

Earlier, US National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack said that any discussion on renewed inspections should be "very short".

UN weapons inspectors in Baghdad, 1998
UN arms teams have been barred from Iraq since 1998
"What he (Saddam) should say is: 'Yes, I accept any time, anywhere, any place unfettered inspections'," he said.

For his part, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan gave a cautious welcome to Iraq's invitation for the head of the weapons inspection team to visit Baghdad.

However, a spokesman for Mr Annan warned that the procedure proposed by the Iraqis was "at variance" with the methods agreed by the UN Security Council.

No decision will be taken on a response to the invitation until a council meeting next week.

Speculation has been growing about a possible attack on Iraq by the US, which alleges that Saddam Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction.

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Washington says the US administration has been careful to play down the significance of an Iraqi offer it views with deep scepticism, and President George W Bush has left the capital for the weekend without commenting on it.

Other members of the UN Security Council appear to be divided over the offer - Russia and France welcomed it but Britain is sceptical.

The letter from the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri, was sent to Mr Annan on Thursday inviting the chief inspector, Hans Blix, for what was called "technical talks".

Skilled negotiators

The BBC's Greg Barrow, at the United Nations, says the last thing UN officials want to do is to rush into making a response - they know that the Iraqis are skilled negotiators.

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

The UN will want to know exactly where such discussions are going to lead.

Our correspondent says that, despite their obvious caution, officials still want to believe that the Iraqis are moving towards a return of inspectors after an absence of more than four years.

UN inspectors left Iraq in 1998, complaining of a lack of co-operation from the Iraqi Government.

News of the Iraqi invitation caused global oil prices to fall on Friday, as traders saw the move as reducing the chances of military conflict in the Middle East.

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

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Gavin Hewitt reports from Washington
"The aim remains the removal of Saddam"

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02 Aug 02 | Middle East
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01 Aug 02 | Media reports
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