- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 12, 2000

NEW YORK If President Clinton can shake hands with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the United States should be willing to enter a dialogue with Iraq, Tariq Aziz said in an interview yesterday.

The deputy prime minister said his country is sensing a greater willingness by its Arab neighbors and other countries to end past hostilities, but expressed frustration with Washington's silence.

"The golden rule in solving a crisis between nations is to talk," said Mr. Aziz in an interview yesterday. "The Americans have talked to their adversaries, even shaken hands, but with Iraq they refuse to do that."

He also said his country will not open its doors to U.N. weapons inspectors until the sanctions are lifted and bombing ceases along the no-fly zone. Even then Baghdad will only accept inspections in the context of a broad regional disarmament that also includes Israel.

"We will be a full participant in any reasonable and responsible discussion on our region," he said in the home of Baghdad's U.N. ambassador. "Iraq is open … because those matters are vital to peace and security in the region."

But, he added pointedly, the U.N. resolution that imposed sanctions after the Persian Gulf war "says 'to free the region of weapons of mass destruction,' but since 1997 the Security Council has taken no steps to put that paragraph into practice. The region includes Israel."

U.S. officials say they have heard such rhetoric before.

"They go through this periodically on the pretense that if there were what they call a dialogue that these problems would go away and differences would be ironed out," said James Cunningham, deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

"Their problem is with the Security Council and the resolution, in this case, disarmament and compliance. It's not a U.S.-Iraq issue."

He added, "It shows that they have no interest in complying, just playing games."

Mr. Aziz came to New York last week for the U.N. Millennium Summit, and stayed on for meetings with presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers from around the world.

Since arriving last Tuesday, Mr. Aziz has met with President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, President Alpha Oumar Konare of Mali, President Sam Nujoma of Namibia, King Abdullah of Jordan, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and diplomats from Tunisia, Qatar and other countries. He has also met with officials from Egypt and Turkey, strategic trading partners in the region. He was to sit down with French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine last night.

Mr. Aziz said his discussions had centered on economic and trade issues, as well as Baghdad's demand that the Security Council lift the 1990 sanctions before it will cooperate with the new U.N. inspection regime, called U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (Unmovic).

Iraqi leaders have long claimed the country has no proscribed weapons, and said there is no point in allowing the inspectors to return if Washington and London will not lift the embargo. Mr. Aziz said he has not met with Unmovic Executive Chairman Hans Blix, nor has he asked to meet with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"When they [inspectors] return, they will not help in lifting the sanctions. When you have two things, sanctions and inspection, you can live with one of them. Now, it is sanctions without inspections."

But British Deputy Foreign Minister Peter Hain told reporters in London yesterday that that if Iraq cooperated, sanctions could, in theory, be quickly lifted.

"This is a win-win-win situation: U.N. inspectors return, Iraqi people get relief and Iraq's neighbors feel safer with Saddam's weapons under control," he said.

Mr. Aziz accused Washington of vetoing any diplomatic overture.

Among Iraq's allies on the council "there was a willingness to find a solution. The Americans with the help of the British blocked those efforts, flagrantly and strongly," he said, noting that Russia, China and France abstained on the December 1999 resolution to create Unmovic.

Washington rejects the criticism.

"If they are articulating that as part of a package that needs to be put into place … it just means that they are less interested in complying with Security Council resolutions and getting this under way," Mr. Cunningham said yesterday. "The Iraqi weapons program is not part of a regional issue that is cobbled together, it's a direct result of their invasion of Kuwait."

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