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Annan Sees Some Progress in Negotiations with Iraqis

By Craig Turner
Los Angeles Times

Secretary-General Kofi Annan reported some progress Monday in his efforts to forge a peaceful resolution to the confrontation between the United Nations and Iraq, but he said he has no immediate plans to fly to Baghdad and present a proposal to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Sources said Annan has not yet persuaded the United States to agree to a revised weapons inspection proposal that apparently has won the backing of France, Russia, China and, according to some reports, Britain, the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

Annan alluded to those efforts during a brief news conference that followed his meeting Monday with representatives of the five nations.

"We're not operating on majorities, we're operating on the basis of unanimity, and I think we are getting there," he said.

Representatives of the five nations are scheduled to meet again Tuesday.

Sources at the United Nations reported that the United States remains wary of one part of the proposal that would require U.N. inspectors searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to enter certain areas accompanied by diplomats. The United States is concerned about politicizing the inspection process and wants to ensure that the arms specialists can go wherever they believe they need to go in order to hunt down Iraq's arsenal.

An unsmiling Bill Richardson, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, emerged from the meeting with Annan and the others saying that "some progress was made" but stressing the need for consensus among the five before Annan made any trip to Baghdad.

British Ambassador John Weston, in an apparent effort to stem reports of a split between the two allies, stood next to Richardson and emphasized their areas of agreement.

Weston, whose country has been America's strongest supporter in the standoff, said the Security Council's five permanent members are "very close" to consensus on a plan Annan could take to Hussein.

Pressure continued to mount on Annan to make the trip, with Pope John Paul II adding his voice Monday to those calling for such a journey.

Annan has said he would go only if he has agreement from the key Security Council members on a plan and some indication that Iraq would accept it. But U.N. sources indicated that the international outcry over the possibility of a strike against Iraq has become so intense that Annan may find a journey to Baghdad irresistible, even if its chances of success are low.

The crisis stems from Iraq's declaration that it will not permit U.N. arms inspectors unlimited access to eight presidential compounds scattered across the country. The inspectors want to search the sites, which include Hussein's residences as well as hundreds of other buildings, for evidence of illegal weapons programs.

Under the terms of the cease-fire ending the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the inspectors must certify that Iraq no longer can make chemical, biological or nuclear weapons and has eliminated its long-range missiles before the Security Council can lift the oil embargo that has crippled the Iraqi economy since 1990.

Iraq maintains that it has complied, but the inspectors refuse to agree that is the case pending further investigation.

The five permanent Security Council members are considering changing the inspection program in an effort to overcome the Iraqi intransigence.