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U.S.: Secretary of State Urges Iraqi Cooperation With UN Inspectors

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in his first visit to UN headquarters in New York, has reiterated the UN Security Council's main demand of Baghdad -- that it allow weapons inspectors back into the country. Powell spoke after meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on a range of subjects, including the unresolved issue of Iraqi inspections. RFE/RL's UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 15 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The new U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has again called on Baghdad to cooperate with UN inspectors and help end the impasse that has prolonged tough sanctions against Iraq.

Powell told reporters at UN headquarters yesterday he hopes a planned meeting later this month of Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will represent a new chance to resolve the issue of Iraq's weapons' programs.

"I hope the Iraqi representative comes with new information that will show their willingness and desire to comply with the UN resolutions and become a progressive member of the world community again."

Iraq's new ambassador, Mohammed al-Douri, has expressed similar hope for progress on the sanctions issue. He told Reuters in an interview yesterday he hoped that the new U.S. administration will help resolve a number of issues, which he said included an end to the no-fly zones over parts of Iraq.

But the new ambassador also reiterated Iraq's rejection of the UN resolution setting up the new inspection under Swedish diplomat Hans Blix. Iraq maintains it no longer has weapons of mass destruction. It has not allowed UN weapons inspections in more than two years.

Powell and the new administration of President George Bush have already taken a tough line toward Iraq in public comments. Powell told reporters yesterday the United States was reviewing its policies toward Iraq and said it was necessary for peace in the region to restrain Saddam Hussein from developing military power.

"We're trying to find ways to make sure that the will of the international community is met by the Iraqi leadership, and so we are constantly looking at ways to make it possible for us to be assured that there are no weapons of mass destruction and that there are [no] programs underway that would produce weapons of mass destruction."

Powell also expressed concern for the plight of Iraq's people, whom humanitarian groups say have sustained the main burden of the sanctions.

"We have sympathy for the people of Iraq, we have sympathy for the children of Iraq. We see a regime that has more than enough money to deal with the problems that exist in that society if only they would use that money properly."

Under a four-year-old humanitarian program, Iraq is allowed to sell oil and use the revenue for humanitarian uses and to rebuild its oil sector. Last year's rise in oil prices made the program especially lucrative, although Iraq still needs to get approval from a UN Security Council committee to contract for supplies.

Annan earlier this week approved the latest six-month phase of the program, in which Iraq budgeted $5.5 billion for the humanitarian program. The new distribution program calls for providing food rations that will allot about 2,500 calories per person per day, which had been recommended by UN officials.

The director of the UN humanitarian program, Benon Sevan, said in a memo to Iraqi officials this week that the new food allocation is welcome. But he said there have been unjustified delays by the Iraqi government in contracting and submitting applications for supplies to meet humanitarian needs.

Sevan, quoted yesterday by UN spokesman Fred Eckhard, urged that Iraq be vigilant in carrying out food rations.

"Now that increased revenues are available for the implementation of the program, the government of Iraq is in a position to reduce current malnutrition levels and improve the health status of the Iraqi people."

The U.S. Secretary of State's meeting with Annan lasted about 90 minutes. Their talks covered Iraq, the Middle East, and various UN activities, but the brief press conference that followed was dominated by questions about Iraq.