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Monday, 5 August, 2002, 21:06 GMT 22:06 UK
Iraq extends inspection offer
UN weapons inspectors in Baghdad in 1998
Iraq has invited experts to search for banned arms
Iraq has invited the US Congress to send a team to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, to search for evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

The offer was made in a letter from Iraqi parliament speaker Saadoun Hammadi, following a meeting of the Iraqi leadership.

I think an attack on Iraq would be unwise

Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General
The White House dismissed the invitation, and correspondents in Washington say Congress is unlikely to take it seriously.

It came as the United Nations Security Council prepared to discuss an offer from Iraq last week for the chief UN arms inspector Hans Blix to visit Baghdad for talks.

Secretary General Kofi Annan gave a cautious welcome to the Iraqi overture to the UN, saying the invitation could be considered if Iraq allowed the return of UN arms monitors.

Mr Annan also warned against attacking Iraq, saying it would be unwise to do so under the current circumstances in the Middle East.

His remarks come amid heightened speculation that the Bush administration is planning military action to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Unconditional access

In the letter to Congress, Mr Hammadi said a US delegation would be given "every facility needed to search and inspect any plants and installations allegedly producing, or intended to produce, chemical biological or nuclear weapons".

Kofi Annan
Annan said the UN might consider Iraq's offer
The US accuses Iraq of secretly rebuilding weapons of mass destruction banned since the end of the Gulf War in 1991.

Iraq has refused to allow UN weapons inspectors back into the country since they left in 1998, claiming Iraq was not allowing them to act freely.

The BBC's Rageh Omar, who is in Baghdad, says that although the offer to US Congressional leaders was made by the Speaker of the Iraqi parliament, it is an initiative that could only have originated directly from Saddam Hussein.

It is a clear sign, he says, that Iraq is trying to do everything it can to shift the focus away from the question of unconditionally readmitting UN weapons inspectors.

US sceptical

The White House dismissed the latest Iraqi offer, saying it wanted action, not words.

"There's no need for discussion," said US National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack. "What there is a need for is for the regime in Baghdad to live up to its commitment to disarm," he said.

Iraqi rockets filled with sarin, destroyed after the Gulf War
Iraq is suspected of rebuilding its weapons programme
US President George W Bush also reacted sceptically to Iraq's invitation to Hans Blix, saying the US was still committed to Saddam Hussein's removal.

Correspondents say there will be a sense of nervousness in the president's circle that this latest overture might be seen more favourably by international allies already sceptical about the prospect of a war.

Mr Annan said the Iraq invitation Mr Blix was significant because it was one of the first letters the UN had received from Iraq inviting arms inspectors back into the country.

"If they [Iraq] were to agree to the position that Mr Blix had laid out for them, in accordance with the UN resolutions, we may be closer," said Mr Annan.

A 1999 Security Council resolution says inspectors must return to Iraq first, to determine remaining questions about Iraq's banned arms programme.

The BBC's Bridget Kendall
"Kofi Annan repeated a warning for America not to rush into war"
Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General
"It is interesting that they write to invite inspectors to come in at this stage"
Danielle Pletka, American Enterprise Institute
"Arms inspectors have to go in on the terms dictated by the UN"

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See also:

05 Aug 02 | Middle East
04 Aug 02 | Politics
03 Aug 02 | Middle East
02 Aug 02 | Middle East
30 Jul 02 | Americas
02 Aug 02 | Middle East
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