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US Officials Dismiss Iraq Inspections Offer as 'Stalling Tactics' - 2002-08-05

Both the Bush administration and key members of Congress are dismissing Iraq's offer to let U.S. legislators visit the country for a first-hand look at whether that country is concealing weapons of mass destruction.

The Iraqi offer to U.S. legislators drew a skeptical response from both the Bush administration and the Congress, where Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden called on Iraq to end what he termed "stalling tactics" and re-admit U.N. weapons inspectors.

Mr. Biden said if Iraq has nothing to hide, it should comply with Gulf War U.N. resolutions and allow immediate and unfettered access to inspectors, who have been barred for the country for nearly four years.

The speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Saadoun Hammadi, made the overture in letters sent to the leaders of the Senate and House, saying congressmen could visit the country for three weeks accompanied by arms experts in order to see, he said , that U.S. claims that Iraq is hiding banned weapons are untrue.

Briefing reporters here, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said Iraq's obligations to scrap its weapons of mass destruction and allow the U.N. to verify the process are evident and no further discussion is required.

"We don't need any shifting of goal-posts or diverting of attention by the Iraqis. It's very clear what they need to do," he said. "We've all made that quite clear. And that's what we want to see happen. Disarmament needs to take place and putting the inspectors in there to verify that is required under U-N Security Council resolutions."

House Democratic Whip Nancy Pelosi also dismissed the Iraqi offer as "disingenuous" and said the international community should insist that Saddam Hussein allow the inspections to proceed.

In another development, the State Department said the administration will convene a meeting in Washington Friday of key leaders of Iraqi opposition groups, part of a Bush administration effort to end infighting among the factions and forge a united front against Saddam Hussein.

Senior State Department and Pentagon officials will host the meeting, to include the opposition umbrella group the Iraqi National Congress along with Kurdish, Muslim and secular organizations.

U.S. officials have been holding a series of what are termed "work-shop" meetings with members of the various groups to, among other things, prepare for an orderly transition in Iraq once the administration's stated goal of "regime change" in Baghdad is achieved.