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Annan Confident in Mission to Avert U.S. and Iraq War

By Charles Trueheart
The Washington Post

On the eve of his arrival in Baghdad, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan struck a note of confidence that his potentially decisive mission will succeed in averting a military confrontation.

"I have everything I need" in the way of negotiating authority from the U.N. Security Council to reach a compromise with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein over weapons site inspections, Annan said here Thursday night after a 45-minute meeting with French President Jacques Chirac. "I think we can get an accord the Security Council can accept with no problem."

Chirac, who has supported a negotiated settlement in Iraq, stood at Annan's side and said, "The whole world is giving him its support."

"I call upon Iraq to accept the proposals of the secretary general of the United Nations because these are the proposals of the whole international community. I hope that wisdom and reason will prevail," said Chirac, who spoke by telephone with President Clinton shortly before Annan arrived in Paris.

Before leaving New York on Thursday, Annan acknowledged the difficulty of the task before him as he seeks a way to avoid U.S.-led military strikes against Iraq. "There's a great deal of suspicion on both sides," he said. "It is not going to be easy to overcome that gulf and get (Saddam Hussein) to understand what I've come to tell him."

Annan is carrying a compromise agreed by the Security Council aimed at giving the Iraqi president a face-saving way to back down. The compromise would have U.N. Security Council member diplomats accompany weapons inspectors to eight presidential palaces that Iraq has declared off-limits. The diplomats would be intended as a sign of international respect for Iraqi sovereignty over the sites, which Saddam Hussein has asserted.

After the Chirac meeting, Annan retired to the Crillon Hotel on the Place de la Concorde. He was scheduled to leave Paris for Baghdad at 9 a.m. (3 a.m. EST) Friday from a military airfield south of the city aboard one of Chirac's two presidential Falcon 900 jets. Annan will drop the plane off in Paris Sunday or Monday on his way back to New York.

Reporters asked Annan if he feared a debacle like the one associated with former U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar's eleventh-hour mission to Baghdad that failed to forestall the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

"The times are different," Annan said. "'91 is not '98."

Annan's stopover in Paris gave the French government another chance to exert its role as independent broker in the crisis.

France, a U.S. military partner in the gulf war, has stood with the United States, Britain and other Western allies in insisting on strict compliance with U.N. resolutions calling for the free and unhindered access by weapons inspectors to all suspected weapons factories in Iraq. But it has attempted to brake the momentum toward a military response by exploring, sometimes in concert with Russia, avenues of compromise.

French officials this week have claimed as substantially their own the compromise formula Annan is carrying in his briefcase, notably the element that some officials hope will break the deadlock over the inspections: partitioning the territory inside the eight Iraqi presidential palaces that Saddam has declared off-limits, protecting circumscribed personal areas while opening the bulk of the sites to inspections.

French officials repeatedly have declared their opposition to the use of force to punish Saddam Hussein's violation of U.N. resolutions. But comments from diplomats Thursday suggested that France was prepared to close ranks with the United States, if reluctantly, should Annan's negotiations fail to bear fruit.