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

Annan, Hussein meeting set

The crisis still centers on whether Hussein will allow unfettered access to all sites, including palaces   

But U.N. to pull staff from Baghdad

February 18, 1998
Web posted at: 12:05 p.m. EST (1705 GMT)

Latest developments:

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- With U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan making a last-minute diplomatic bid to avert a U.S.-led attack on Iraq, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak revealed Wednesday that he had received a "positive" letter on the arms inspection impasse from his Iraqi counterpart, Saddam Hussein.

The United Nations, meantime, said it will reduce its staff in Iraq as a precaution against a military strike.

CNN's Bernard Shaw talks with former President George Bush about the Iraq situation
icon 4 minute, 42 second VXtreme video

Annan met with Security Council members on Wednesday. He is due to leave for Iraq on Thursday, with a stopover in Paris.

The U.N. leader is expected to arrive in Baghdad on Friday and hold talks there over the weekend, including a face-to-face meeting with Hussein.

Annan will likely leave Baghdad Sunday evening and will report to the Security Council on Monday, according to his spokesman.

Mubarak: Iraq sends 'positive' message

"I received a message (Tuesday) from President Saddam Hussein containing a number of positive points and we hope the visit (to Baghdad) by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will succeed," Mubarak said in Cairo after talks with Syrian Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam.

Egypt and Syria both were members of the U.S.-led multinational coalition which expelled Iraqi troops from Kuwait in 1991 but have insisted on a diplomatic solution to the present crisis.

"A military strike will cause endless problems," Mubarak added. "We will (urge Hussein) to work hard to make (Annan's) trip a success because it is the last chance."

"I think that our brothers in Iraq understand the situation," he said. The Egyptian leader provided no further information on the contents of Hussein's letter.

Egypt hears from U.S.

CNN's James Martone discusses the communication between Hussein and Mubarak
icon 532K/25 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Russia, which has been lobbying for a diplomatic solution to the standoff, also said Hussein was showing signs of flexibility.

Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov said in Hungary on Wednesday that diplomatic efforts to solve the Iraq crisis seemed to be working.

"Conditions seem to be favorable to achieve (a settlement)," he told a joint news conference in Budapest with his Hungarian counterpart Laszlo Kovacs.

And France said it held out hope that Iraq would have a last-minute change of heart.

Mubarak also said that he received a telephone call from Bill Clinton on Tuesday in which the U.S. president expressed hope that "a solution could be reached to make Iraq comply with the Security Council resolutions peacefully and without force."

U.N. to reduce Baghdad staff as precaution

In anticipation of a possible attack on Baghdad, the U.N. said it would send 31 of its humanitarian aid employees out of the capital on Thursday -- 29 would go to Jordan, the two others to northern Iraq.

"This is a precautionary staff protection measure," U.N. spokesman Eric Falt said.

At one time, about 400 staff worked with U.N. relief efforts in Iraq, Falt said.

Last week, the United Nations advised its staff on leave from jobs in Iraq to stay abroad. Falt said 60 staff who had left Iraq recently for vacations were staying outside the country. Around 140 would be left in the government-controlled areas of central and southern Iraq after Thursday's departures.

U.N. mappers nearly finished

Clinton, who has amassed a huge military force in the Gulf in preparation for a possible strike, said on Tuesday the crisis would be solved peacefully only if Iraq met conditions previously set by the United Nations.

The United States and Britain have threatened to attack unless Iraq allows U.N. inspectors full, unconditional access to sites suspected to contain biological or chemical weapons or materials to make them.

Iraq denies having such arms and has said it will allow inspections of eight disputed "presidential" sites for two months.

U.N. mapping team
The U.N. mapping team in Baghdad Wednesday   

In Baghdad on Wednesday, U.N. experts reportedly mapped out the last of the sites. The three-man team visited the eighth site after finishing its survey of seven other locations, the official Iraqi News Agency said.

The team aims to map the eight compounds so U.N. officials can identify buildings to be examined by U.N. arms inspectors charged with dismantling Baghdad's weapons of mass destruction.

The team's leader, Staffan de Mistura, gave no details on the group's progress as he embarked Wednesday on the team's final day of work in Iraq.

"We're working 24 hours a day," was all he would say.

Correspondents James Martone and Ben Wedeman, andReuters contributed to this report.

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