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S P E C I A L: The Standoff with Iraq

Iraq shows signs of flexibility as Annan prepares to visit

Tuesday's P5 meeting with Annan

In this story:

February 17, 1998
Web posted at: 11:27 p.m. EST (0427 GMT)

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced Tuesday that he will go to Baghdad in an effort to resolve the standoff over weapons inspections, and an Arab diplomat said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein may be easing his stand on the issue.

Annan said an advance team would leave Tuesday night to lay the groundwork for his meetings with Iraqi officials. Annan is to arrive Friday and said he expects to hold discussions during the weekend.

In Doha, Qatar, meanwhile, Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani returned from a meeting with Hussein and said Iraq appeared ready to negotiate on the inspections.

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"They are showing signs of some flexibility, but they are waiting for Kofi Annan," he said.

Hamad, the first foreign minister of a Gulf Arab state to visit Iraq since it invaded Kuwait in 1990, said he was optimistic that diplomacy could end the crisis.

"A peaceful and diplomatic solution is still an option," he said. "Let's wait for three days. I explained the dangers of a conflict in the region. I am optimistic."

Qatar and other Gulf states are fearful that a military strike on Iraq would touch off more fighting in the oil-rich region, and they are eager for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Oil tankers at the border of Iraq and Jordan  

'Good chance' of a resolution

In Baghdad, Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, said Iraq "will make all serious and legitimate efforts to make successful the mission of Mr. Kofi Annan."

And in yet another sign that Iraq might be showing signs of flexibility, its U.N. ambassador, Nizar Hamdoon, told reporters that Iraq was prepared to discuss "all the issues" with Annan.

"I think there's a good chance that Mr. Annan reaches a resolution to this crisis when he's in Baghdad," he said.

 Leaders strip
Li Peng, Yeltsin and Chirac. The Chinese, Russians and French all urge Annan to travel to Iraq to pursue a diplomatic solution  

Annan made his announcement at the United Nations after meeting first with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and then with the full 15-member council. He said the entire council supports his trip.

The United States and Britain had sought support for a written statement limiting what Annan could offer in the way of concessions.

However, the three other permanent members -- Russia, China and France -- refused to tie Annan's hands. All three countries have been urging Annan to go to Iraq for some time.

"It is my hope that we can achieve a diplomatic solution that will ensure the full implementation of all Security Council resolutions," Annan said at a brief news conference after the sessions.

Annan said he did not ask for a "mandate" from the council and had made the decision to go to Iraq on his own.

"What I wanted was an understanding and a basis that will help my mission and make it successful and that if I come back, that everybody will be on board," Annan said.

U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson said Washington backs Annan's trip, but retains the right to reject anything he negotiates.

"We wish him well," Richardson said, "but we reserve the right to disagree with the conclusion if the trip is not consistent with Security Council and our own national interest."

U.S. insists on protecting UNSCOM

Security Council sources said progress had been made among the five permanent members on reaching common ground on the focus of the trip, but some details appeared to remain unresolved.

A major sticking point was the U.S. insistence that the independence and integrity of the U.N. Special Commission, known as UNSCOM, be protected. The commission has been trying to verify whether Iraq has complied with U.N. orders to destroy all long-range missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

Weapons of mass destruction

Iraq claims it has destroyed all banned weapons and that UNSCOM has deceived the council to keep the sanctions in place. But UNSCOM inspectors have said they believe Iraq still has some chemical and biological weapons hidden.

"We all agreed on what is consistent with American policy," Richardson said. "The policy is clear: unfettered access to all sites by UNSCOM. The policy is strong: integrity of UNSCOM and the U.N. inspection teams in accordance with Security Council resolutions."

Report on Iraqi weapons released

In other developments:

  • In Washington, a U.S. report based on CIA and other intelligence data says Iraq still has some Scud missiles and at least a modest stockpile of chemical and biological weapons, and could quickly manufacture more weapons of mass destruction.

    The document, which was distributed by the White House, says Iraq may have bought more Scud launchers from Russia than either country admits. It also says that it cannot be verified whether Iraq destroyed dozens of Scud engines, as it was required to do.

    The report says Iraq has stockpiles of Anthrax, Botulinum toxin, gas gangrene, Alfatoxin and Ricin, all components of biological weapons. And it estimates that Iraq has between 15,000 and 25,000 rockets, 15,000 artillery shells and 45 to 70 missile warheads.

  • In Moscow, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and visiting Chinese Premier Li Peng rejected any use of force against Iraq and, in a strongly worded joint statement, urged a political solution to the crisis.

    Then Yeltsin spoke by telephone with French President Jacques Chirac and said they intended to avert a military solution to the crisis.

    Correspondent Brian Jenkins and Reuters contributed to this report.

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