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Wednesday, 18 September, 2002, 02:02 GMT 03:02 UK
UN and Iraq discuss weapons checks
Iraqi women in front of a mural of Saddam Hussein
Iraq said the US no longer has a reason to attack it
The United Nations' chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, has met Iraqi officials in New York to discuss Baghdad's offer to allow inspectors back into the country.

The two sides agreed to meet again in 10 days' time in Vienna to finalise practical arrangements for new inspections, an Iraqi official said.


Russia believes that the main job now is to see that the inspectors, without any artificial delays... should go to Iraq

Igor Ivanov, Russian foreign minister

The New York meeting came as Baghdad's agreement to allow arms inspectors to return "without conditions" appeared to split the UN Security Council.

The US continued to push for a new Security Council resolution backed up by the threat of military action - but Russia said no new resolution was necessary, and urged the "speedy return" of inspectors to Iraq.

US President George W Bush warned that the United Nations "must not be fooled" by Iraq's offer to readmit the inspectors, saying Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "has already delayed, denied and deceived the world" over arms inspections.

"For the sake of liberty and justice for all, the United Nations Security Council must act - must act in a way to hold this [Iraqi] regime to account," he said, on a visit to the southern US city of Nashville.

Inspections discussed

Mr Blix's spokesman, Ewen Buchanan, said the hour-long talks between the chief arms inspector and Iraqi officials Saeed Hasan and Hasam Mohammed Amin focused on "practical arrangements related to the resumption of inspections".

Open in new window : Who backs war?
Where key nations stand on Iraq

After the meeting, Mr Hasan said Iraq would provide the inspectors with the backlog of semi-annual declarations about activities at sites which have not been monitored since July, 1998.

These could include information, for example, on whether equipment has been acquired, moved or changed in any way.

Asked when inspectors might return, Mr Hasan said: "It depends on Mr Blix's arrangements."

A UN statement said the Iraqis needed time to discuss developments with Baghdad and that follow-up talks would be held during the week of 30 September.

The UN Security Council has requested a meeting with Mr Blix as soon as possible.

Growing divide

The split in the security council became clear at a press conference at the UN earlier on Tuesday, where the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and the Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, spoke to reporters.

un inspectors
UN inspectors left Iraq in 1998

Mr Powell said that Baghdad's offer, which came in a brief letter from Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri to the UN, did not meet the world's demands.

"We cannot just take a one-and-a-quarter page letter signed by the foreign minister as the end of this matter. We have seen this game before," Mr Powell said.

"Remember the issue is not inspectors, the issue is, in the first instance, disarmament."

But his Russian counterpart said there was no need for any new resolution, insisting "the main job now is to see that the inspectors, without any artificial delays, without any artificial obstacles, should go to Iraq and get down to discharging their functions".

Confusion

The BBC's correspondent at the UN, Jon Leyne, said that Iraq's decision to admit the weapons' inspectors has caused more confusion at the UN than its defiance ever did.


I am no advocate of war or military action... that said, the threat of substantial military force is a powerful tool

Former UN weapons inspector Terry Taylor
Click here for more

The Security Council met in private on Tuesday, but members could not even decide when to begin discussing the Iraq situation, our correspondent said.

The US, Britain - which has also expressed scepticism about the Iraqi offer - and Russia are permanent members of the Security Council, wielding the power of veto.

The other two members are China, which welcomed the offer, and France, which said the council "must hold Saddam Hussein to his word".

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz has said Baghdad's pledge to readmit weapons inspectors had removed any justification for a US-led attack.

Mr Aziz said the US was bent on war with Iraq, and that its true motive was hunger for Iraqi oil.

Despite the diplomatic moves, the US is continuing to shift military hardware close to Iraq, apparently in preparation for a possible strike.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Saeed Hassan from Iraqi UN delegation
"Implement fully all the provisions of Security Council resolutions in order to lift sanctions"
Former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela
"It is the United Nations that must decide"
Steve Kingstone reports from Washington
"This does not look like an administration backing down"

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