United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Thursday that he is not optimistic about the return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Baghdad. The comments came in response to a speech by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, in which he called on the United Nations to "honor its obligations" regarding sanctions on Iraq.

Mr. Annan said he has yet to receive a response to the letter he sent the Iraqi government earlier this week spelling out the terms under which chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix would return to Baghdad for technical discussions. U.N. inspectors searching for weapons of mass destruction left Iraq on the eve of a joint British-U.S. bombing raid in December 1998, launched to punish Iraq for blocking inspections.

In his speech, Mr. Hussein demanded the United Nations reply to 19 questions Iraq posed during an initial round of talks in March aimed at allowing the inspectors to return to Iraq. The questions involved a variety of issues, including no-fly zones, U.N.-imposed sanctions and threats against Mr.Hussein's government. Reacting to the speech, Mr. Annan said he sees little shift in the Iraqi leader's position.

"I think the questions are the same, and I don't see any change in attitude," Mr. Annan said. "As you know, I wrote to them two days ago. I have not gotten a formal response yet. But I think the president's statement insisting on answers to the 19 questions does not show any flexibility from their previous position."

Mr. Annan also said there is nothing new in the Iraqi leader's call for the United Nations to honor its obligations concerning U.N. sanctions against Iraq. The sanctions, imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, are linked to confirmation from U.N. weapons inspectors that Iraq is not stockpiling or producing biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.