- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2003

BAGHDAD A senior Iraqi official said yesterday, just days before a crucial round of talks with chief arms inspectors, that Baghdad is "keen to resolve any pending issues" in the U.N. search for banned weapons, but he didn't immediately offer new concessions.
Maj. Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin indicated, nevertheless, that Iraq may have compromise proposals on hand for the talks during the weekend with Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei. "We shall do our best to make [Mr. Blixs] visit successful," Gen. Amin told reporters.
Iraq, which steadfastly denies it has weapons of mass destruction, is under pressure to make concessions and show progress in the U.N. inspections process to forestall any U.S.-British diplomatic bid for support for military action against Baghdad.
In his news conference, Gen. Amin, the chief Iraqi liaison to the inspectors, also dismissed Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's plan to present evidence of prohibited Iraqi weapons programs to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday.
That material probably will be "fabricated space photos or aerial photos" of a kind the Iraqis could refute if given a chance to study them, Gen. Amin said. "It is a political game," he added.
President Saddam Hussein is expected to have had more to say about the U.S.-Iraqi confrontation in a rare interview conducted yesterday with retired British lawmaker Tony Benn. Mr. Benn said the taped interview would be televised in a day or two.
Mr. Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector,, and Mr. ElBaradei, director general of the U.N.-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), accepted an Iraqi invitation to return for a new round of talks just ahead of their next report to the Security Council on Feb. 14. It will be the second round of Baghdad talks for the two officials in three weeks.
They say that they hope to see Iraqi movement beforehand on two immediate issues: U.N. reconnaissance flights over Iraq, and private interviews by U.N. officials with weapons scientists.
Asked whether Iraq was prepared to bend to the U.N. position, Gen. Amin, instead, reiterated Baghdad's stance on both the items.
The Iraqis have said that they would allow U.S. U-2 surveillance flights to assist in the inspections as long as the United States and Britain halt air patrols over southern and northern Iraq while the spy planes are in the air. This way, they say, Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries won't mistake the reconnaissance aircraft for U.S. and British warplanes and fire on them.
In their Jan. 19-20 talks here, the chief inspectors "told us they have no authority to achieve this," Gen. Amin said.
On the issue of private interviews with scientists, Gen. Amin told reporters, "We cannot force them to conduct such interviews."
Every potential Iraqi witness has thus far refused to submit to secret interviews, demanding the presence of a government witness. U.S. officials contend that Saddam's government has threatened death for any scientist who grants a private interview.
The United States has marshaled almost 90,000 military personnel in the Persian Gulf region, a number that may double within weeks. In a further sign of the rising tension, the Turkish military yesterday began moving troops from western Turkey to its border with Iraq, a likely flashpoint in the event of a war.

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