- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 3, 2002

NEW YORK The Bush administration yesterday brushed off Iraq's invitation for a U.N. weapons inspector to visit Baghdad as "nothing new" and repeated its threat to topple Saddam Hussein.

The United Nations was also skeptical of the invitation, contained in a letter sent Thursday inviting chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix to come to Baghdad and "conduct a comprehensive review and assess the degree of Iraq's implementation of its obligations."

"It should be a very short discussion," said Sean McCormack, a White House spokesman. He repeated demands that inspectors be allowed unrestricted access in Iraq in a mission to destroy its chemical and biological weapons.

"Our policy remains the same. It has been the same since 1995 and that is regime change. Everyone understands the nature of Saddam Hussein and his regime," Mr. McCormack said.

Bush administration threats to attack Iraq and topple Saddam prompted a two-day Senate hearing on Iraq and its dangerous weapons.

Iraq agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction after the 1990-91 Persian Gulf war a pledge that was to have been verified by U.N. inspectors.

"Iraq has not fulfilled that obligation," said Zalmay Khalizad, the senior White House official on Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

Mr. Khalizad told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy: "We don't see anything new about this [invitation], but we are not opposed to it."

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri sent the letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday the second day of the Senate hearings for Mr. Blix to come "at the earliest agreed-upon time."

It was the first indication that Iraq was prepared to let inspectors back into the country after kicking them out in December 1998.

But U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said of the invitation: "The procedure proposed is at variance with the one laid down by the Security Council in its resolution of 1999.

"The resolution says that Iraq must first agree to admit the weapons inspectors. They would conduct on-site inspections for a period of 60 days and then report to the Security Council with a proposed program of work," Mr. Eckhard said.

Prior to the invitation, Mr. Annan had met Iraqi officials on three occasions in an effort to get U.N. inspectors back into Iraq, without success.

The Security Council, which must determine whether and how to send inspectors in, is to discuss the invitation with Mr. Annan on Monday.

Among the council's five permanent members, Britain sided with the United States yesterday.

"Saddam has a long history of playing games. As his track record shows, he does not deliver," a British Foreign Office spokesman said in London.

Russia, Iraq's closest supporter inside the council, welcomed the possibility of resumed inspections.

In a statement, Moscow said it "considered Iraq's proposal to be an important step toward solving the present problems through diplomatic and political means in line with the existing U.N. Security Council resolutions."

Earlier this week, a Russian delegation had visited Baghdad in an attempt to resolve the standoff.

The council's five permanent members are divided on Iraq, with China and Russia opposing military action, the United States and Britain threatening to attack and France sitting in the middle.

The Security Council created the original U.N. Special Commission, which was charged with finding, analyzing and destroying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction after the Gulf war.

The effort was dismantled in 1999, after it became clear that Baghdad would not cooperate.

The council has since created a successor organization, the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, headed by Mr. Blix. But Iraq has refused to let it into the country.

Meanwhile, Iraq was uncharacteristically quiet yesterday, the 12th anniversary of its invasion of Kuwait, unlike in recent years, when military parades and demonstrations marked the day.

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