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UN: Iraq Has Sharp Words For U.S. But Will Continue Dialogue

Iraq's foreign minister has concluded two days of talks which he says allowed Baghdad to outline its grievances over 10 years of UN sanctions. At the same time, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was completing a trip to Middle Eastern states, signaling that the United States would be taking steps to tighten the focus of sanctions on Iraqi leaders. RFE/RL's UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 28 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Iraq's foreign minister, Mohammed Said al-Sahaf, has expressed satisfaction with two days of UN talks aimed at ending the dispute over weapons inspections.

Sahaf told reporters before leaving UN headquarters yesterday (27 February) that UN and Iraqi officials would hold another round of talks soon in New York to keep alive their new dialogue.

"We had gone through many details in regard to very, very sensitive and complex issues in regard to the relationship between Iraq and the Security Council. And my assessment is that it went smoothly during the four sessions of this round of dialogue."

Sahaf insisted in public comments throughout the two days that Baghdad has fully complied with Security Council resolutions requiring it to eliminate its biological, chemical, nuclear, and ballistic missile programs.

The Iraqi foreign minister did not hold formal meetings with the Security Council or the new arms inspection mission it has created, known as UNMOVIC.

He referred to UNMOVIC director Hans Blix as "a detail from a bad resolution," an allusion to resolution 1284, which created the new inspection mission. Iraq has refused to accept the resolution, focusing instead on a 10-year-old resolution (number 687) which spells out the provisions for lifting sanctions.

Sahaf said Iraq regards resolution 1284 as an unfair measure forced on the Security Council by the United States and Britain. The three other permanent members -- France, Russia, and China -- abstained during the vote on the resolution. Sahaf said:

"We think this resolution is complicating the whole issue. It is very bad intended one and it is intentioned only to block the way for a real lifting of sanctions. It is a bad re-writing of the basic resolution 687. It is a classic example of moving goalposts."

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who attended all the talks, is expected to brief the council later today (28 February) or tomorrow. Annan spoke by telephone with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell after the first session of talks yesterday.

U.S. and British diplomats at the United Nations have said they support the talks but were doubtful they would lead to any breakthroughs. A deputy U.S. ambassador, Nancy Soderberg, told reporters yesterday that council members would greet any progress on the sanctions issue.

"It's no secret that the sanctions policy had become an issue of contention (on the council) and if we can find a way forward I think everyone would welcome that."

As UN-Iraq talks were concluding, Powell was wrapping up a tour of the Middle East aimed, among other things, at consulting with some key Arab states on sanctions policy.

There is substantial popular support for Iraq in many Arab countries. Some Arabs have expressed outrage about U.S. and British moves to punish Iraq while failing to pressure Israel to stop its tough measures against Palestinian protesters.

After discussions with Arab leaders, Powell called for sanctions to be altered so that more consumer goods reach Iraqi citizens. But he also said there should be tightened controls over military technology transfers.

In New York, Sahaf was scornful of Powell's comments on sanctions, calling them "rubbish." Sahaf also denied U.S. contentions that Iraq was pumping oil through a pipeline to Syria, in violation of the sanctions regime.

Powell said yesterday that he had reached an agreement with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to put the Iraqi-Syrian pipeline under UN monitoring. Powell has also asked Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem for Turkey's cooperation in preventing oil and other goods from leaking across the Iraqi-Turkish border in violation of sanctions.

There are increasing news reports that Iraq is selling oil outside of the UN's oil-for-food program, which requires that oil revenues be strictly used for humanitarian purposes or for oil-equipment repairs.

UN oil experts told a Security Council sanctions committee earlier this week that there has been a revenue loss of more than $2 billion dollars in the oil-for-food program since December.

The United States has used its position in the sanctions committee to hold back more than $3.3 billion in contracts for Iraq out of concern that contracted items have dual military uses.