In a change from its usual anti-American rhetoric, Iraq on Sunday urged the United States to "courageously" change its policies and normalize relations with Baghdad.
An editorial in the state-run Baghdad Observer said that such a move by President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair would be in their political and economic interests.The two countries have been the main supporters of keeping punishing U.N. trade sanctions on Iraq. The sanctions, which ban the unlimited export of oil, were designed to punish Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein for his 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which set off the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
The U.N. Security Council has said the sanctions won't be lifted until U.N. inspectors certify that Iraq has eliminated its weapons of mass destruction.
The editorial called for "a daring step by reasonable and realistic politicians" to reassess American policy toward Iraq and "eventually call for direct talks with the government of Iraq so as to normalize relations."
The editorial, signed by the Observer's editor Naji al-Hadithi, said that the White House and its allies in Britain had used the sanctions to try to undermine Iraq's leadership.
It said this was "futile, costly and unwarranted policy" and urged the United States to "courageously reshuffle it for a more realistic one that serves America's legitimate interests as well as the cause of peace, security and stability in this region."
In an interview published Sunday in the weekly Al-Musawir Al-Arabi, Iraq's deputy foreign minister, Riyad al-Qaisi, said Iraqi-American talks were likely.
"Iraq does not mind a dialogue with Washington - it calls for it," al-Qaisi was quoted as saying. He predicted that "the United States would seek to open dialogue with Iraq."
In Washington, White House national security spokesman Eric Rubin said those statements alone will not alter U.S. policy toward Iraq because of Iraq's intransigence on U.N. resolutions.
Earlier this month, American officials said the Clinton administration was not interested in a dialogue with Iraq in response to suggestions by Jordan's King Hussein that the two sides talk directly about their disagreements.
The Iraqi statements came amid what appears to be a change in Iraq's dealings with U.N. weapons inspectors following the Feb. 23 agreement negotiated by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Under the deal, Iraq agreed to open eight of Saddam's palace compounds to U.N. inspection and to improve cooperation with U.N. weapons teams.
Last week, for the first time, Iraq allowed a U.N. team into the Defense Ministry. And next weekend, the chief U.N. arms inspector, Richard Butler, is due in Baghdad to begin the palace inspections.
The Americans and British had threatened military strikes to force Iraq to open the palace compounds but relented after the Annan deal was signed.
On Sunday, U.N. inspection teams paid unannounced visits to eight sites, one with a helicopter, the official Iraqi News Agency reported.
In addition, the agency said, U.N. teams specialized in biological and chemical weapons as well as missiles were in the field. It said that one of these teams visited a state-run university but did not give details.