- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 6, 2002

NEW YORK Baghdad yesterday invited U.S. lawmakers to visit Iraq and search for weapons, the second attempt in less than a week to derail a looming American offensive.
The White House swiftly rejected the invitation, just as it dismissed the earlier invitation for chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix to journey to Baghdad as a stalling tactic.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan indicated yesterday that he would reject, for now, the invitation for a visit by Mr. Blix, saying it fell short of detailed Security Council resolutions.
"We have very clear requirements, and if Iraq were to honor them, I think the invitation could be considered," Mr. Annan said, closely tracking Washington's demand for unconditional access. "If this is a real break and a real change in attitude, that is something that we will have to test."
In Washington, National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack dismissed the idea of a congressional delegation visiting Baghad, saying, "There is no need for discussions. What there is a need for is for Iraq to live up to its commitment to disarm."
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said the invitation "seems to be yet another attempt by the Iraqi leadership to deflect attention from their unwillingness to fulfill a commitment they've already made to the international community."
Iraq's parliamentary speaker, Sadoun Hammadi, yesterday invited congressmen and weapons experts to visit Iraq for three weeks to hunt for weapons caches and production facilities.
"The members of such a delegation will no doubt be equipped with whatever data your government chooses to supply them with in substantiation of its misguided claim that Iraq has produced chemical and biological weapons and is in the process of constructing nuclear weapons," Mr. Hamadi wrote in the letter, which was delivered to the U.S. Special Interests section in Baghdad.
The letter was seen in Washington as an attempt to ward off a U.S. invasion, which has been publicly debated by senior officials for several weeks.
The Arab world has rejected another war on Iraq, even though many members reluctantly took part in the 1991 Gulf war. Many European and Asian allies also oppose an attack.
Mr. Annan yesterday warned that another Iraq conflict could exacerbate conflicts in the region.
"My position has always been very clear, that I think it would be unwise to attack Iraq, given the current circumstances what's happening in the Middle East," he told reporters.
The U.N. Security Council, which handles issues relating to Iraq's disarmament, is highly unlikely to endorse any military action against Iraq.
Its members remain deeply divided on how to respond to the Blix invitation, which was issued by Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri.
Russia, Iraq's closest ally on the council, has repeatedly urged the United Nations to resume discussions with Baghdad.
"We believe talks on technical issues on the resumption of international monitoring and inspections in Iraq would be a first step on the road to full restoration of cooperation between Baghdad and the U.N.," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said in Moscow yesterday.
The divisions were evident after a private luncheon attended by Mr. Annan, senior U.N. officials and the 15 Security Council ambassadors.
"I think, generally, council members would want to see the inspectors return to Iraq," Mr. Annan said.
"There were shades of emphasis some indicating that the council itself has been very keen to get the inspectors in and we should go the last mile to get the others in, and there are those who believe that this is gamesmanship and that nothing may come out of it."
Mr. Annan stressed that he was not rejecting Iraq's invitation to Mr. Blix but merely waiting for greater compliance with the council's road map for a return of inspectors.
"The council has given certain instructions to Mr. Blix as to how to proceed, and if they accept to work with him on that basis, then of course the invitation will be looked at in a different light," he said.
Specifically, Mr. Annan said, the Iraqis would have to welcome Mr. Blix and a team of inspectors for up to 60 days to assess what needs to be done and how to do it. From there, the group would report first to the council, which would then determine how to proceed.
The inspectors hastily withdrew from Iraq in December 1998, leaving behind a delicate network of remote monitoring equipment. Inspectors say privately that they doubt that much of that equipment including chemical sensors, motion detectors and cameras remains intact.
Diplomats said it would be foolish for Mr. Blix to give Iraq an action plan when it isn't clear how much ground has been lost.
At the United Nations yesterday, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the council members were unanimous in wanting to see the inspections resume but were divided in their approach.
"There may have been some differences in respect to tactics," he said, but "there is agreement on the road map in [U.N. Resolution] 1284."
Iraq has in recent months been making signs of partial cooperation with 12-year-old Security Council resolutions on Iraq, even as lawmakers and the Bush administration draft plans for an invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
Baghdad has promised to return seized Kuwaiti archives and has sat down three times with Mr. Annan to discuss weapons inspections. However, all the offers have fallen well short of Security Council demands.

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