Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz says his country is preparing for an American attack, but is ready to cooperate with the United Nations to prevent one.
Mr. Aziz met with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan for a half-hour on the sidelines of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
After the meeting, Mr. Aziz told reporters Iraq is ready to work with the U.N. Security Council to avoid a U.S. military attack. "As I told the secretary general, if anybody can have a magic solution so that all these issues are being dealt with together, equitably, reasonably, we are ready to find a solution," said the Iraqi official. "And we are ready to cooperate with the United Nations."
Mr. Aziz told reporters he is concerned that pressure on Iraq to re-admit weapons inspectors could be "a pretext" for attacking Iraq.
A spokeswoman for Secretary General Annan issued a statement saying their talks were part of an ongoing dialogue aimed at getting U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq. She would not say whether there had been progress toward that goal.
Mr. Aziz renewed an invitation to allow U.S. and British lawmakers to inspect Iraq's weapons capabilities. That suggestion has previously been rejected by the West, where diplomats say such inspections require experts with specific technical expertise, not politicians.
The Iraqi deputy prime minister called the possibility of a U.S. military attack "a crisis." "Well, we are taking the threats very seriously," he said. "This is our responsibility. We cannot take risks that they are not serious, they are serious. That is what we are thinking about and we are preparing ourselves to defend our country."
The Bush administration has said it wants a "regime change" in Iraq. American officials including Vice President Dick Cheney say Iraq is still producing weapons of mass destruction, and they believe Iraqi President Saddam Hussein poses a grave threat to the United States and its allies.
Iraqi officials have traveled the globe in recent weeks, trying to get world leaders to speak out against unilateral military action against Iraq.