BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Iraq pledged Tuesday to make “all serious and legitimate” efforts to peacefully resolve the crisis over U.N. weapons inspectors.
A statement issued by Saddam Hussein’s Revolutionary Command Council said Iraq hopes U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will “come here with an open mind and free will” to conduct negotiations.
In an interview with Cable News Network, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz declared that the United States has no authority to attack Iraq. He said none of Iraq’s neighbors want it to be attacked while countries as far away as New Zealand, Australia and Britain are jumping to help the United States.
“It is not a coalition for peace. It is a belligerent coalition to destroy a nation,” Aziz said.
The statement from Revolutionary Command Council did not offer any specific concessions that might avert a U.S. military strike.
“Iraq will exert all serious and legitimate effort to bring the mission of (Annan) to a success in his forthcoming visit to Baghdad,” the Iraqi council’s statement said. It said Iraq hopes Annan will be “in a situation that will enable him to reach a balanced political solution.”
The council’s statement came as diplomatic efforts intensified to bring Annan to Baghdad. Five permanent members of the Security Council failed Monday to agree on a mandate for Annan.
At the center of the crisis are eight presidential compounds that Iraq has put off-limits to U.N. weapons inspectors, saying they are symbols of national sovereignty.
The inspectors want access to the sites as part of their mission to oversee the elimination of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, a requirement before crippling sanctions imposed on Iraq for the 1990 invasion of Kuwait can be lifted. The United States and Britain have threatened air strikes if Baghdad does not allow unrestricted inspections.
Iraq has been rallying the support of its Arab neighbors to thwart the building of a coalition similar to the one led by the United States in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Bahrain — part of the Gulf War coalition — said Tuesday it will not allow the United States to use the island as a staging area for any air strike on Iraq.
Thus far, Washington has only been able to get a firm pledge from Kuwait to allow its territory be used in case of a flare-up of hostilities in the Persian Gulf.