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US Turns Down Iraq's Invitation to Inspect Sites

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U.S. turns down Iraq's invitation to inspect sites

Thursday, October 10, 2002 Posted: 1:19 PM EDT (1719 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House on Thursday dismissed Iraq's latest offer for U.S. officials to come to Baghdad, Iraq, and see for themselves whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.

"This is not up to Iraq. This is up to the United Nations," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "The only question that remains is what terms would inspectors go back in under so they can do an effective job."

Fleischer said U.S. President George W. Bush is paying close attention to the debate on Capitol Hill among lawmakers over a congressional resolution on Iraq that would authorize use of force if Iraq's President Saddam Hussein refuses to comply with U.N. sanctions.

Fleischer said Bush is expecting to get a large, bipartisan vote from the House in favor of the resolution and that the administration hopes this will send a strong signal to Iraq that it must comply with the United Nations its directives concerning weapons.

"The president hopes that this will send a strong message to the world and to Iraq that if Iraq does not obey the U.N. resolutions that the United States is prepared to enforce the peace. The president hopes that Iraq will understand the seriousness of the United States, our allies, and the world, and will come into compliance with the U.N. resolutions," the spokesman said.

Earlier, Baghdad invited the United States to "immediately" inspect three sites Washington says it suspects are developing weapons of mass destruction.

Abdul Tawab Mullah Hawaish, Iraq's deputy prime minister and the man responsible for the country's weapons programs, told a news conference on Thursday that his country was not producing chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

Instead, he claimed comments from the United States about the three sites showed the Bush administration was "desperate" and engaged in "lies and fabrications."

"Any person who has got an ounce of intelligence will be able to figure out these lies. These fabrications have no truth whatsoever," he said.

The minister said the disupted sites were in reality a metal factory, a cast-iron factory used for cement and industrial work and a factory producing molds for civilian use.

The sites had either been destroyed by U.S. bombing or were being redeveloped for research purposes, he added, saying: "We are prepared to open the doors for a visit immediately so we can clarify the situation and demonstrate the ridiculous lies perpetrated by the U.S., which have no basis on the grounds.

He said allegations that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction "indicate an arrogance" on the part of some world leaders, including U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"If the U.S. administration was trying to investigate the truth as they claim, let them allow the inspectors to come back and inspect the sites. I am sure they would find whether we have weapons of mass destruction or not," Hawaish said.

The United States, backed by Britain, is trying to push for a new resolution through the U.N.'s Security Council that would effectively threaten military action against Baghdad if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein failed to comply to their demands on inspections.

Britain's Foreign Minister Jack Straw has just completed a diplomatic tour of the Arab region to try and boost support for the resolution.

Straw has visited Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Iran as well as France during a four-day mission.

Iraq has embarked on a diplomatic tour of its own, sending Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz and its Foreign Minister Naji Sabri to the Middle East. (Full Story)

Aziz is to visit Beirut on Thursday where he will meet with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud the following day.

Sabri has been telling its neighbors that war in Iraq would have a destabilizing effect on the whole Arab region.

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