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Friday, February 20, 1998 Published at 16:43 GMT

World: Middle East

Annan arrives on 'sacred' peace mission
image: [ Kofi Annan is greeted by a top level Iraqi delegation ]
Kofi Annan is greeted by a top level Iraqi delegation

The United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, has arrived in Iraq to begin a mission that is widely seen as the last chance for a peaceful solution to the crisis over United Nations arms inspections.

Annan on a "sacred duty" as Aziz promises "constructive discussions" (1'29")
Mr Annan was welcomed on the runway in Baghdad by the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, and by the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Muhammad Sahhaf. He is expected to stay three days.

Mr Annan says he is "reasonably confident" of defusing the crisis although he has not been given much room for negotiation by the UN Security Council.

America has warned it is willing to unilaterally use force if they are not happy with any settlement the Ghanaian-born Mr Annan reaches.

[ image: Kofi Annan gives a runway press conference]
Kofi Annan gives a runway press conference
At a news conference on the runway, Mr Annan said: "I am in Baghdad on a very important mission. I describe it as a sacred duty. I am here in search of a peaceful solution.

"I hope I will leave Baghdad with a package that will be acceptable to all."

The BBC correspondent in Baghdad says senior Iraqi officials want Mr Annan to thrash out a compromise and not simply be a messenger.

But Washington and London have made it clear that he is not in Iraq as a mediator.

[ image: Hard talks ahead for Kofi Annan]
Hard talks ahead for Kofi Annan
They say the time for negotiations is over, and that the only suitable outcome is Saddam Hussein agreeing to full, unfettered and unconditional access to all sites for UN weapons inspectors.

Mr Annan expects to meet the Iraqi leader on Saturday when he will "explain the situation very clearly and get him to understand that it is in his best interest and in the interest of the Iraqi people to agree to implement Security Council resolutions."

Mr Annan flew to Paris for a meeting with the French President, Jacques Chirac, before his Iraq trip.

He has admitted to having "some ideas" that he can present to the Iraqi government but has refused to elaborate.

Mr Annan said: "We have all the elements to succeed if everybody works conscientiously and with goodwill in their determination to avoid unnecessary bloodshed for the Iraqi people who have suffered enough.

The Iraqi authorities have indicated that Mr Annan's arrival is a welcome one.

An editorial in the official newspaper of the ruling Ba'ath party said that if the UN Secretary General thought he was going to have a difficult trip he was wrong, and that everything would be done to make it easy for him.

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