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Wednesday, February 18, 1998 Published at 14:35 GMT

World: Middle East

Annan to visit Iraq on last ditch peace mission
image: [ Visit by Kofi Annan may represent last chance for diplomacy ]
Visit by Kofi Annan may represent last chance for diplomacy

The United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, will visit Iraq this week in a final bid to defuse the confrontation over weapons inspections.

George Alagiah reports from Baghdad where ordinary Iraqis are facing up to the possibility of war (2' 39")
Mr Annan said he expected to arrive in Baghdad on Friday, with an advance party leaving first. The trip became possible after the five permanent members of the Security Council agreed on a formula for him to take to the Iraqi leadership.

Diplomatic sources at the United Nations say Mr Annan received an oral briefing, reported to include the offer of limited concessions over inspections of the presidential sites at the centre of the dispute. The brief is believed to include a warning of serious consequences if UN resolutions are disobeyed.

[ image: Mr Annan will warn of dire consequences if UN resolutions are ignored]
Mr Annan will warn of dire consequences if UN resolutions are ignored
The BBC's United Nations correspondent says the trip offers many dangers. Kofi Annan will travel without any written brief and what appears to be only half-hearted support from the US. It is the most important mission of his UN career but to a large extent his chances of success are in the hands of Washington and Baghdad.

Iraq's spokesman in London, Zuhair Ibrahim: "Iraq does not want any kind of confrontation" (3' 30")
Above all, any deal he might negotiate will be useless unless it is consistent with the uncompromising stand still being taken by the US.

Mr Annan also briefed the Council's 10 non-permanent members before talking to the full Council on Wednesday.

US reserves its position

But despite voicing support for the "agreed advice" passed on to Mr Annan by the ambassadors of Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, US envoy Bill Richardson immediately warned that Washington might walk away from the endorsement.

[ image: US Envoy Bill Richardson: Kofi Annan's mission
US Envoy Bill Richardson: Kofi Annan's mission "could be a positive one"
"The United States is supportive of his trip. We wish him well, but we reserve the right to disagree if the conclusion of the trip is not consistent with Security Council resolutions and our own national interests," he said.

Mr Richardson said that the five's verbal advice to Mr Annan was "consistent with the US position - free and unfettered access to all sites, and full integrity of Unscom" (the UN Special Commission responsible for disarming Iraq).

Mr Annan said he hoped to secure a solution that would ensure "full implementation of all Security Council resolutions," which provide for unconditional access to all sites for the inspectors.

[ image: UN officials have been barred fro presidential sites since October]
UN officials have been barred fro presidential sites since October
Meanwhile, Chinese ambassador Qin Huasun welcomed the agreement among the five paving the way for Mr Annan's last-ditch mission to Baghdad.

He said Beijing "attaches great importance to the proposed visit by the Secretary General aimed at finding a diplomatic and peaceful solution of the current crisis".

Agreement on inspection regime

Western diplomats said earlier that the five had reached agreement on a separate inspection regime that would preserve Unscom's authority.

The proposal, put forward by France, would enable Mr Annan to name diplomats from the 21 Unscom member states, who would accompany inspectors.

[ image: Five permanent members of UN Security Council reject Iraqi conditions on weapons inspections]
Five permanent members of UN Security Council reject Iraqi conditions on weapons inspections
But Washington insisted that Unscom chairman Richard Butler should retain control of the new regime.

The five permanent members also reject Iraq's insistence on a two-month time limit for the inspections of the eight presidential sites.

Mr Annan's task will now be to persuade Iraq to drop the conditions that it had attached to opening up all the sites. He has said he would only travel to Baghdad if he felt he had a "workable solution" acceptable both to the Council and to Iraq.


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