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In Iraq: February 21

While the U.N. and Iraqi officials describe the first rounds of talks as 'constructive dialogue', at this stage, no one can say whether Secretary General Kofi Annan is making any progess in persuading Saddam Hussein to open up his presidential sites to U.N. weapons inspectors and, once and for all, obey U.N. rules.

As the talks began, Annan radiated confidence and humor. When asked by photographers to shake hands with Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, Annan jokingly called the cameramen dictators.

Then came the real business behind closed doors. Later, Annan told reporters the talks started well. There's still a lot of work to do, but said he's rather optimistic.

This was a day filled with messages. Iraqis from Saddam Hussein's hometown pledged their blood and souls to their leader. America may have weapons, they said, but we have Saddam.

There was another macabre message: a mock funeral of tiny coffins, each one symbolizing a child they claim died as a result of sanctions. Iraqi officials continued Saturday to be on its best behavior, taking reporters to see U.N. weapons inspectors entering a site near a sensitive nuclear facility. The message here was plain: we are cooperating.

The man charged with mapping disputed presidential sites seemed to agree, pointing out that Iraq had opened a number of them this week to weapons inspectors. "We have experienced a non-disturbed, totally facilitated visit throughout the mission," said Steffan de Mistura.

The short version of his message is that iraq appears to be taking a small step towards obeying U.N. rules. It is the critical task of this weekend's diplomacy to move from this one small step towards the U.S. demand for complete and unfettered access.

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