| An Iraqi woman with her nine-year-old daughter who is suffering from leukaemia at the Mansur hospital in Baghdad. (Reuters)
London, Sept. 2 (Reuters): Iraq, stepping up a diplomatic drive to avert a threatened US attack, said today it would discuss a conditional return of United Nations arms inspectors with UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.
Russia warned the United States that using force against Iraq could destabilise the region, Russian news agencies said.
Iraqi deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said he would hold talks with Annan at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg tomorrow to discuss the deepening crisis with the United States.
“We would consider this issue (the inspectors) within the context that I mentioned, with the comprehensive settlement,” Aziz told reporters. The UN inspectors left Baghdad in 1998.
Aziz did not spell out what such a settlement would entail, but Sabri wrote to Annan last month proposing a deal under which “all the requirements of the relevant Security Council resolutions would be satisfied in a synchronised manner”.
Iraq has in the past said UN arms experts would have to discuss in advance what they were looking for before searches for weapons of mass destruction resumed. Baghdad insists that all its banned weapons programmes have been scrapped.
Iraq has argued that the United States would use any new inspections to spy on its military capabilities or to provoke a confrontation which it could use as a pretext for war.
It was not immediately clear if Aziz’s remarks, made only a day after he told CNN that letting the experts back under the direction of chief UN arms inspector Hans Blix was not an option, represented a genuine change of heart by Iraq.
In Baghdad, President Saddam Hussein said US hostility masked an ambition to grab control of the region's oil reserves.
“Why all this American animosity against Iraq'” the official Iraqi News Agency quoted Saddam as saying. “Because America believes that if it destroys Iraq, it would control oil of West Asia which makes up 65 perc ent of world oil reserves.”
Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov, speaking at a news conference with his Iraqi counterpart Naji Sabri, said Moscow had no evidence of any Iraqi threat to US security.
He said Iraq must accept the return of UN inspectors to determine whether it held weapons of mass destruction.
“Any decision to use force against Iraq would not only complicate an Iraqi settlement, but also undermine the situation in the Gulf and West Asia,” Ivanov said. Sabri was visiting Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council with veto power, as part of Iraqi efforts to fend off US threats of military action to topple Saddam.
Ivanov, whose country backs the US“war on terror”, but has long had good ties with Baghdad, said he hoped the council would never be asked to authorise a strike on Iraq “and, therefore, the right of veto will not be necessary”.
Former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa told reporters he was “appalled” by United States policy on Iraq.
Iraq is pulling out the diplomatic stops to counter US threats to remove Saddam by force for his alleged efforts to acquire doomsday weapons that Washington says Iraq might use against the West or its allies, or hand over to terrorists.