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Annan Receives Credit for Making Iraqi Deal Possible

By Craig Turner
Los Angeles Times
BAGHDAD, Iraq

After weeks of increasingly bellicose rhetoric, the maneuvering of hundreds of attack planes and dozens of warships and diplomatic shuttling across tens of thousands of air miles, it may have come down to two leaders in a room accompanied only by an interpreter.

One was Kofi Annan SM '72, the trim, dapper career bureaucrat who administers the United Nations and rarely raises his voice barely above whisper level. The other was Saddam Hussein, the feared dictator of a nation of 40 million who is so secretive it is said that only a dozen people know where he sleeps each night.

Their talk later was described as surprisingly candid, businesslike and absent of the rhetorical flights of propaganda Iraqi officials often employ with U.N. representatives.

When it was over, Hussein had rolled back his demands that U.N. weapons inspectors stay out of presidential compounds the Iraqis have portrayed as symbols of national sovereignty and dignity. He agreed to new procedures for permitting inspectors into buildings previously declared out of bounds and the Iraqi government signed a two-page agreement that includes no time limits on inspections, according to U.N. officials.

In cautiously accepting the pact - which goes before the U.N. Security Council -Tuesday, U.S. officials asserted that Baghdad's reverse largely stems from the fearsome threat posed to Hussein by an American-British air and naval strike force lurking in the Persian Gulf. Annan even paid tribute of sorts to the armada when he told a news conference here Monday that "you can do a lot with diplomacy, but of course you can do a lot more with diplomacy backed up by firmness and force."

But those close to him also credit Annan with stitching back together the battered, stretched and frayed international coalition that drove Hussein's troops out of Kuwait in 1991 and has worked to contain and disarm the Iraqi leader in the years since.

That alliance could unravel again if the agreement crafted by Annan fails to meet the stringent standards set by the United States.

But in any event, the renewed unity at least held long enough to get Hussein to alter his stand in negotiations that took on the theatrical quality of a cliffhanger. Until Hussein's shift in the Sunday afternoon meeting with Annan in a central Baghdad palace - one of those at issue in the talks - it appeared the U.N. leader might have to fly home to New York without agreement.

Annan had laid the groundwork for negotiations here in earlier meetings in New York with ambassadors of the powerful five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia. Those countries form a sort of international judicial panel enforcing the terms of the 1991 Persian Gulf War cease-fire on Iraq, including the requirement that Baghdad rid itself of its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Sources said there was uncharacteristic anger and shouting among the five in the New York sessions - elements notably absent from Annan's meeting with Hussein. But, gradually, Annan coaxed them into what an aide described as "near consensus" behind a formula to resolve the confrontation short of war.

He then used that to convince Hussein that he could push the Security Council no further and that if he rejected the proposed deal Annan was offering it would broaden international support for a military strike against Iraq, sources said.

A telling moment in the talks appeared to come before the meeting with Hussein as the U.N. party and the Iraqi delegation, led by Deputy Prime Minister Tarik Aziz, neared an impasse over the question of whether there should be a 60-day time limit on U.N. weapons inspections at eight presidential compounds .

For Annan, Iraq's continued insistence on time limits was a deal breaker. Unless the Iraqis relented, aides insisted, he was prepared to leave Baghdad empty-handed, despite the blow to his standing and prestige and the fact that it would have cleared the way for the bombers.

Aziz kept arguing that only the Americans opposed time limits, officials here said. To counter that, Annan used a break in the talks to telephone Moscow and ask Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov to call back and remind Aziz that even the Russians - who are Iraq's best friends on the Security Council - opposed the 60-day restriction.