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Iraq 'Eager' to Resolve Outstanding Issues With UN Weapons Inspectors - 2003-02-03

Iraqi officials are becoming more vocal about resolving remaining issues with U.N. weapons inspectors, as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell prepares to show the Security Council evidence he says proves Iraq is still in possession of weapons of mass destruction.

Iraqi officials say they are eager to resolve outstanding issues with U.N. weapons inspectors, but they also say the inspectors might have to make some concessions.

Two of the unresolved issues include allowing the weapons inspectors to interview Iraqi scientists in private, and a U.N. demand that U2 spy planes be allowed to fly over suspected weapons sites.

The Iraqi liaison to the inspectors, Gen. Hossam Mohamed Amin, said Iraq will allow the use of the spy planes, but can only guarantee their safety if U.S. and British patrols in the so-called no fly zones are suspended.

The general also says his government cannot force Iraqi scientists to agree to be interviewed in private. Officials in Baghdad have said the scientists have asked for Iraqi officials to be present during the interviews to make sure their words are not misunderstood or misrepresented.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, have been invited to return to Baghdad Saturday before both men report to the Security Council next week (Feb. 14).

Gen. Amin says Iraq may offer some new concessions to the weapons inspectors. Iraq's U.N. Ambassador, Mohamed al-Douri, said he thinks the two sides will find a solution for all remaining issues.

In the meantime, Secretary of State Colin Powell is scheduled to speak to the Security Council Wednesday to present evidence the United States says will prove Iraq is still in possession of weapons of mass destruction. Iraqi officials say Mr. Powell's evidence will likely be what they called "fabricated space photographs or aerial photos." It is the kind of evidence Iraqi officials say they could refute if given an opportunity to study it.

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's personal assessment of the situation may soon be made public. British Labor Party politician Tony Benn says he conducted a television interview with the Iraqi president in Baghdad. He says he expects the interview to be broadcast in the next day or two. While refusing to provide specific details, Mr. Benn said he asked the Iraqi leader questions concerning weapons of mass destruction, alleged links to the terrorist group al-Qaeda and oil issues.