Iraq offer for a dialogue with the United Nations gets short shaft


Wednesday, February 6th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



WASHINGTON (AP) _ An Iraqi offer conveyed through the Arab League for a dialogue with the United Nations drew a curt and negative response Tuesday from Secretary of State Colin Powell.

``It should be a very short discussion,'' Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. ``The inspectors have to go back on our terms.''

But despite the frosty U.S. reception, the diplomatic wheels were turning.

Amr Mousa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, who recently visited Baghdad, told U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York that Iraq was willing to talk without any special conditions.

Annan responded by saying he was prepared to receive a delegation from Iraq.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein suspended international weapons inspections in December 1998, and despite tough economic sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council has stood his ground.

Faced with Arab complaints that the Iraqi people were the victims, the Bush administration is trying to have the council impose so-called ``smart sanctions'' instead. The idea is to permit exported to Iraq of consumer goods and even equipment that might possibly be useful in military programs while tightening the screws on serious smuggling.

Powell told the committee as he defended the Bush administration's budget request for $25.3 billion for U.S. international affairs spending, that if Saddam had nothing to hide he would admit the inspectors.

The inspectors have not been allowed inside the country for more than three years and the suspicion is that Iraq is developing powerful missiles and hiding biological and chemical weapons programs.

Powell said Russia was becoming more receptive to new sanctions on Iraq despite its interest in business opportunities and the $7 billion it is owed by Iraq. That raises the possibility the sanctions will be approved later in the year, Powell said.

On another subject, Powell took a big step toward agreement with Russia on cuts in U.S. and Russian long-range nuclear weapons stockpiles.

Last year, Presidents Bush and Vladimir Putin pledged sharp reductions in the two nations' arsenals but did not agree on how to carry out the cutbacks.

Bush said he preferred an informal arrangement. Putin wanted the reductions codified in a formal agreement to make sure they are carried out.

On Tuesday, Powell told the Senate committee, ``We do expect it will be legally binding.''

He said the administration was considering an executive order by the President or even a treaty, something senior administration officials have dismissed as a tedious and out-of-date approach.

In a statement at the start of the hearing, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., said arms reductions ``must rest on more than a handshake.''

And, Biden said, any formal agreement should be in treaty form, which would require the Senate's approval.

A proponent of arms control, Biden said the Senate would not allow the Bush administration ``to do an end around it.''

Questioned about Bush's designation of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an ``axis of evil,'' Powell said, ``There are others in this category.'' He did not identify them.

Meanwhile, he said the designation ``does not mean we are not ready to engage in dialogue'' with Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

For instance, Powell said, ``We are ready to talk to North Korea any time they are ready to come back to the table,'' and without preconditions.

But he said North Korea has not responded to U.S. overtures.

For the most part, Powell was praised by members of the committee. So, too, was Bush's anti-terrorism campaign.

But Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said the Bush administration had taken ``somewhat of a cavalier attitude'' in designating three countries as an axis of evil and not saying much about what that means.

``We have to be very careful here what we are doing,'' Hagel said. ``When we say things _ and set a nation on a course _ that makes people uneasy.''

Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee, R-R.I., also questioned Bush's rhetoric. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said the administration should have increased spending to combat the HIV-AIDS epidemic and on sub-Sahara Africa, and Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., said some of the funds earmarked for the Defense Department should have gone to the State Department.