Iraqi Offer Doesn't Cut It

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BAGHDAD: As Iraq tries to wiggle its way out of a showdown with American bombers, its attempts are falling far short of an acceptable solution and serving only to solidify the U.S. position that Iraq must submit completely to UN resolutions. Iraq offered Wednesday to open eight of the so-called "presidential sites" to United Nations arms inspectors. The catch? Inspectors would have to be picked by the 15-member Security Council, not the special commission charged with carrying out the inspections, and they would have just one month to complete their searches. Also, Iraq insists on declaring the sites off-limits once they are inspected, among other conditions.

"The proposal is not going to be acceptable to anybody," says TIME UN correspondent Bill Dowell. "The Iraqis know it." The Iraqi aim, says Dowell, is too create divisions in the Security Council that might stave off an attack. "There is strong resistance in the Security Council to Saddam thumbing his nose at the UN but less interest in going in militarily." Russia and China are against air strikes and France has voiced its displeasure with the military option.

Predictably, Washington scorned the proposal. White House spokesman Mike McCurry said Washington would settle for nothing less than full compliance with UN resolutions which call for unrestricted access to all suspected weapons sites. "The main point is that the Iraqis cannot be allowed to define the group doing the inspections," says Dowell. "Then they start to take over the inspection process. Washington is saying it wants 100% compliance, or else."