Iraq's foreign minister declared in the U.N. General Assembly Thursday that Iraq does not have any weapons of mass destruction and welcomes the return of the arms inspectors, who have been out of Iraq for nearly four years.
In a speech foreign minister Naji Sabri described as a personal message from Saddam Hussein and read entirely in English rather than Arabic, he accused the Bush administration of lying to the American people about Iraq's links to last year's terrorist attacks on the United States to justify an invasion of Baghdad.
He also rejected Washington's claims that Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction and invited any country that wishes to join the U.N. inspectors, whom President Saddam Hussein says are welcome to return without conditions.
"I hereby declare before you that Iraq is clear of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons," he said. "If there are any among you who might still worry that the fabrications announced by American officials about Iraq may possibly be true, our country is ready to receive any scientific experts accompanied by politicians you choose. We shall provide them with all facilities they need to obtain their objective, that is to see the true facts as they are."
In a phrase interpreted by the Bush administration as putting conditions on U.N. weapons inspections, Mr. Sabri said Iraq rejects any "transgression," as he put it, "at the expense of its rights, sovereignty, security and independence." Bush Administration spokesman Ari Fleisher called the U.N. speech another deception by Baghdad and described it as "a disappointing failure."
The fact that the Iraqi minister delivered his remarks in English is widely seen here as an attempt to speak directly to the American people, whose support the Bush administration has been trying to rally for a possible attack on Iraq.
Chief arms inspector Hans Blix is scheduled to meet with Iraqi officials in Vienna the week of September 30 to work out final arrangements for the inspections. U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard says these talks are aimed simply at laying out clearly what the procedures of the inspections will be, to avoid any trouble or misunderstandings once the experts are on the ground.
"So we are trying to eliminate all these little practical obstacles to a smooth inspection process," he said. "It is not a negotiation."
It is not clear whether Mr. Blix will be getting any further instructions from the Security Council before the Vienna talks. The United States is pressing for a resolution that diplomats say would lay down additional rules for the inspections, perhaps even a time frame for the completion of the work of the inspectors.