Iraq says it has invited the chief U.N. arms inspector for Iraq to visit Baghdad for talks about the possible resumption of weapons inspections.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressing Iraq's desire to hold what he called a "new round of technical talks between Iraqi experts and the chief U.N. weapons inspector as soon as possible."
Mr. Sabri said the proposed visit of chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix would review steps that were taken to disarm Iraq between May 1991 and December 1998. He said the talks would also cover what he called outstanding issues regarding Iraq's weapons programs.
Iraq sent the invitation to the United Nations on the same day the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee concluded hearings on whether the United State should seek to oust Iraqi leader Sadaam Hussein. The United States has maintained that Iraq is a threat because of its chemical and biological weapons.
The Iraqi letter also was sent on the eve of the 12th anniversary of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The invasion lead to U.N. sanctions on Iraq that are to be lifted only after weapons inspectors have made sure Iraq is free of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and the missiles that could deliver them.
In Moscow, Russia welcomed Iraq's invitation as an important step in solving the Iraqi weapons dispute.
But in London, Britain responded skeptically, saying Iraq has a long history of what it called "playing games." A British foreign office spokesman said Iraq continues to ignore 23 of the 27 obligations placed on it by the U.N. Security Council.