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UN: Iraq To Resume Talks; Annan Stresses Focus On Inspections

  • Robert McMahon

United Nations, 26 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan have agreed to meet next week in New York to try to resolve the deadlock over weapons inspections.

UN deputy spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters yesterday that the meeting will take place on 7 March. UN officials have said Annan wants to move beyond the wide-ranging talks held in New York in 2001 and concentrate on resuming weapons inspections as mandated by the UN Security Council.

Dujarric affirmed this approach yesterday: "The secretary-general expects to have a focused discussion on the implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions, including the return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq."

Iraq had requested the talks earlier in February, sending a message through the Arab League's secretary-general, Amr Moussa, that it wished to re-open a dialogue "without preconditions." Annan invited Hans Blix, the UN's chief weapons inspector for Iraq, to the meeting with Moussa to show his intention to focus on monitoring issues.

Blix is expected to be asked to attend the talks between Sabri and Annan, but Dujarric said a complete list of delegations for the two sides is not yet available.

Dujarric said the meeting is to last just one day, but Iraq has indicated it is willing to resume talks on 5 April, after it attends the summit of Arab heads of state in Beirut on 27-28 March.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said any UN-Iraqi dialogue should be short and has stressed that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein must allow inspectors back into the country under the terms set by the Security Council in Resolution 1284.

U.S. President George W. Bush has named Iraq as part of an "axis of evil" of states intent on promoting terrorism and has threatened unspecified action if Iraq does not permit inspectors back into the country to look for nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

The ambassador of Russia, Iraq's closest ally on the Security Council, said Moscow welcomes the talks as a way of improving the overall situation around Iraq. The ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, told reporters that Russia wants the talks to focus on following through with Security Council resolutions.

"Russia, for one, is very much in favor of this dialogue, and we hope that this dialogue would not be just the exchange of the old positions, but rather an attempt to search for ways to implement the Security Council resolutions," Lavrov said. "There is no other way."

Lavrov also said there is a need to "clarify" the ways of implementing Resolution 1284. He referred to an agreement with the United States -- another permanent member of the Security Council -- in November in which they pledged to spell out what steps Iraq must take to get sanctions lifted.

Talks on such clarifications are due to follow consultations U.S. and Russian officials are currently holding on revamping sanctions against Iraq to focus on goods with military uses.

Iraq has not allowed inspectors into the country since 1998 and has so far rejected the 1999 Security Council resolution authorizing a new monitoring team, known as UNMOVIC. Iraq says it does not possess weapons of mass destruction.

The deadlock has meant the continuation of 11 years of UN sanctions against Iraq. The country is allowed to use money from oil revenues to import humanitarian goods, but Iraq has repeatedly criticized the program.