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Baghdad Reportedly Willing to Re-Open UN Talks - 2002-02-05

Iraq is offering to re-open talks with the United Nations in an effort to end more than a decade of U.N. sanctions. An Arab envoy, who recently traveled to Baghdad, suggests the Iraqi offer could include addressing the return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq.

Iraq's offer was relayed through the secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, following his recent trip to Baghdad. Speaking to reporters in Washington, Mr. Moussa said he found President Saddam Hussein's government willing to place "everything on the table." "It would be very much in order, and in the interests of all parties to have a discussion, a focused dialogue on the issues pertaining to the situation over there, in accordance with the previous discussions and the resolutions of the Security Council," he said.

Mr. Moussa met Monday with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who issued a statement saying he is prepared to resume discussions with Baghdad.

But U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, appearing before a Senate panel Tuesday, stressed Iraq must abide by long-standing Security Council resolutions, and allow in U.N. weapons inspectors. "There's reporting this morning that the Iraqi regime has asked the U.N. to have a discussion," he said. "It should be a very short discussion. The inspectors have to go back in under our terms, under no one else's terms, under terms of the Security Council resolution. The burden is up to this evil regime to demonstrate to the world that they are not doing the kinds of things that we suspect them of."

Iraq calls the U.N. weapons inspectors "spies." The weapons experts have been off the job for more than three years, ever since they were pulled out ahead of U.S. and British air strikes in 1998.

This reported overture from Iraq comes just a week after President Bush in his State of the Union address referred to the country as part of an "axis of evil" because of growing concerns Iraq may have rebuilt weapons of mass destruction. Iraq says all such weapons have been destroyed.