UNITED NATIONS -- Iraq's Foreign Minister Naji Sabri extended another invitation to the United Nations to send a team to Baghdad to discuss the terms for renewed arms inspections, U.N. and Iraqi diplomats said Friday. But Sabri insisted that U.N. inspectors would have to outline what they are searching for before inspections can resume.
It remained unlikely that the latest Iraqi offer would be sufficient to persuade the United Nations to send a team of inspectors to Iraq for the first time since 1998. A previous invitation to host the U.N.'s chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, was rejected by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan because it placed conditions on the U.N. arms experts that would have violated terms set by the Security Council.
The Iraqi initiative comes just four days after a senior Iraqi official raised doubts about the prospects for the return of U.N. inspectors to Iraq. Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf told the Qatar-based al-Jazeera television network Monday that "inspections have finished in Iraq" and that there is no need for new inspections.
But Iraq Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan shifted gears in an interview broadcast Thursday by Abu Dhabi Television when he said: "Iraq is ready to discuss the return of the U.N. weapons inspectors, provided that any dialogue with the United Nations takes place with no preconditions."
Mohamed Douri, the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, presented a "very long and lengthy letter" from Sabri to the U.N. chief's office Thursday night, according to senior diplomats. U.N. officials began translating the letter into English Friday, according to the U.N. deputy spokeswoman Hua Jiang. She said that the U.N. chief, who is vacationing in Ghana, had been informed of the letter but has not fashioned a formal response.
Sabri said that Iraq would agree to meet U.N. demands to discuss a series of "practical arrangements" that Annan and Blix said needed to be settled before inspections can begin, according to diplomats. Blix has insisted that such discussions be limited to merely "technical" matters -- deciding where the U.N. inspectors can land their helicopters, or how many Iraqi officials are required to accompany the U.N. arms experts on their inspections.
But Sabri also insisted that a U.N. delegation of "technical" experts engage in discussions on a wide range of disarmament issues of importance to the Iraqi regime. Those include a demand by Iraq that Blix define what disarmament tasks Iraq needs to fulfill before sanctions would be suspended.
U.S. diplomats said that Iraq is sending mixed messages to divide the Security Council and confuse and divert attention from its obligation to allow U.N. inspectors to confirm and monitor the destruction of Iraq's weapons.