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Saturday, 3 August, 2002, 23:17 GMT 00:17 UK
Bush dismisses Iraq inspection offer
UN weapons inspectors in Baghdad in 1998
UN arms teams have been barred from Iraq since 1998
US President George W Bush says nothing has changed in his policy towards Iraq, despite an offer from Baghdad to hold talks on the possible resumption of weapons inspections.

In his first public response since the Iraqi offer on Friday, Mr Bush said he owed it to the future of civilisation not to allow the world's worst leaders to develop the world's worst weapons.

UN weapons inspectors in Baghdad, 1998
UN arms teams have been not been in Iraq since 1998
But despite the tough US stand, a key regional ally, Saudi Arabia, joined Iran - which fought a war with Iraq - in opposing a US attack on Baghdad.

"The problem of Iraq cannot be solved militarily and interference in Iraqi affairs is harmful to the people of Iraq and countries in the region," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said, according to Iranian TV.

And the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, has warned against discussing war in Iraq without considering the consequences.

"Nothing's changed," US President George W Bush told reporters on Saturday when asked about Washington's policy towards Iraq.

'Patient'

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 UN inspectors have been barred by Iraq from returning since they left in 1998.

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

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

"I'm a patient man. I'll use all the tools at our disposal" to make sure Iraq cannot develop weapons of mass destruction and threaten the United States, Mr Bush said.

US Under-Secretary of State John Bolton told the BBC that that Baghdad's invitation to the chief UN weapons inspector for "technical talks" made no difference to America's demand for "regime change".

"We continue to favour the reintroduction of the inspectors and we are supporting them as much as we can," said Mr Bolton, who is Washington's arms control expert. "But...our policy at the same time insists on regime change in Baghdad.

"That policy will not be altered whether the inspectors go in or not," Mr Bolton added.

However he refused to be drawn on how the Iraqi leader might be removed from power.

"There are all kinds of ways for regime change to take place," he said. "The Iraqi opposition has long felt that the country is really burdened intolerably by Saddam Hussein's presence in Baghdad, and that opposition continues to grow."

Regional opposition

The Saudi foreign minister expressed his opposition to an attack on Iraq during a "consultative" visit to Iran - a country that until a few years ago was a bitter enemy.

His sentiments were echoed by the Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami.

"We are opposed to any attack launched against a Muslim country," Mr Khatami was quoted by news agency AFP as saying.

The countries' unified and outspoken stance against a military solution is particularly notable given neither is a traditional ally.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Richard Forrest
"President Bush... said nothing had changed"
US Under Secretary of State John Bolton
"Our policy insists on regime change in Baghdad"

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