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World at One Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 13:20 GMT 14:20 UK
Iraq offers access
President Bush addresses the UN
The UN must decide how to react to Iraq's offer
If nothing else, Saddam Hussein has got his enemies thinking. His unconditional offer to allow UN weapons inspectors to return to his country has delighted those opposed to war against Iraq - dismayed those who believe that only the overthrow of Saddam Hussein can bring stability to the Middle East - and put the British Government, which has backed the US' military posturing, on the spot.

The Foreign Secretary Jack Straw tiptoed through the diplomatic and political minefield, saying he had a high degree of scepticism about the Iraqi offer and there was still a need for a new effective UN resolution on Iraq.

For the United Nations, this is a critical moment.

Weapons inspections are at the heart of the string of UN resolutions that Saddam Hussein has so roundly ignored since the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. But the UN cannot afford to be an escape-route for Saddam Hussein: nor can it risk being used by the United States as a way of triggering an invasion and achieving the change of regime that is Mr Bush's stated policy.

The chief weapons inspector is Hans Blix, and his spokesman Ewen Buchanan told The World at One that the inspectors welcomed the Iraqi offer and were keen to discuss practical arrangements for the returning to the country.

The UN establishment will have to make a political judgement about the Iraqi offer.

The British diplomat, Sir Marrack Goulding, was head of UN peacekeeping until 1993, and Under Secretary General of the organisation for ten years until 1997. He told us the Iraqi offer should be considered but rigorously tested in case it was not genuine. He said he felt there was a tone of disappointment at the offer in Washington and London amongst those who seemed most keen on a military solution.

The Former Foreign Office Minister, Tony Lloyd, added that although Saddam Hussein must live up to his promises, the hawks must also "back off" and allow a chance for a diplomatic solution.

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