MANILA, Philippines – Secretary of State Colin Powell dismissed news that the head of the U.N. weapons inspection team was invited for talks in Baghdad by Iraq, deemed by President Bush as part of an "axis of evil."
"We have seen the Iraqis try to fiddle with the inspection system before. You can tell that they are trying to get out of the clear requirement that they have," Powell told reporters as he neared the end of an eight-country Asia tour.
The invitation from Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri was delivered to weapons inspector Hans Blix by way of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.
"There is no need for further clarification or discussion. The approach is clear," Powell said.
He said the issue is not so much inspections but "making sure that the Iraqis have no weapons of mass destruction."
Iraq agreed to dispose of such weapons as part of an agreement to end the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Saddam Hussein stopped Iraq's cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors in 1998, and the inspectors left in December just before the United States and Britain launched a punitive attack by warplanes and cruise missiles. Iraq has not allowed the inspectors back since.
Iraq began signaling an interest in permitting the inspectors to return after Bush said in January that Iraq was part of the "axis of evil" along with Iran and North Korea. But the administration has seen these overtures as Iraq's way of buying time.
Powell seemed to go further in his response than did Zalmay Khalilzad, who advises Bush on Middle East and Persian Gulf questions.
Khalilzad said Friday the administration was skeptical about the latest Iraqi overture. "Iraq has not fulfilled that obligation," he said. "We don't see anything new about this, but we are not opposed to it."
Before his arrival here, Powell visited India, Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia.
He praised the role of the Philippines in the anti-terrorism campaign. About U.S. 600 troops helped train Filipino soldiers to fight an Islamic guerrilla movement.
A six-month counterterrorism exercise involving 1,200 American troops wrapped up here on Wednesday. Another series of training exercises is to start in October around the country and stretch for eight months.
He said the United States is providing the Philippines with an extra $55 million in aid for the fight against domestic terrorism, in addition to $100 million already allocated to fight poverty.
Powell expressed satisfaction with the progress in the overall war on terrorism.
"People are being picked up around the world," he said. "If they hadn't been picked up, they would be well on their way to conducting terrorist acts."
The Philippine military was on alert as part of the tight security for Powell's 16-hour visit.
About 300 backers of two leftist groups scuffled with police as they tried to break through a steel barricade several hundred yards from the presidential palace gates before Powell arrived. Police used shields to push back the demonstrators but allowed them to continue their rally.
Powell was due back in Washington late Saturday night.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.