United Nations, 5 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A UN spokesman says Secretary-General Kofi Annan will meet with Security Council representatives today to discuss Iraq's offer of new talks on the possibility of resuming weapons inspections.
Spokesman Fred Eckhard said the talks are necessary because the Iraqi offer, conveyed on 1 August by Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, is not in line with Security Council procedures dealing with inspections.
"While [Annan] welcomes the letter, which is in line with the agreement to maintain contact including continuing discussions on technical matters, the procedure proposed is at variance with the one laid down by the Security Council in its resolution of 1999."
Resolution 1284 of 1999 established the new UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and Swedish diplomat Hans Blix was chosen as its chief. Iraq has not allowed inspections since 1998 and has denied it possesses weapons of mass destruction.
Blix took part in two previous rounds of inconclusive talks between Iraqi and UN officials this year, in New York and Vienna. The latest invitation calls for Blix and his staff to come to Baghdad at the earliest possible moment to hold discussions that include a "comprehensive assessment" of Iraq's weapons programs.
Blix has said such discussions could not take place until his inspectors are able to conduct in-field monitoring.
UN spokesman Eckhard says Annan needs to discuss details of the Iraqi proposal with Security Council members. "He is calling it to the attention of the council because they're the ones that prescribed the formula for the resumption of inspections. I don't think you want to say [Annan's] predisposed one way or the other. He wants to show it [to the council] and get their reaction."
The permanent members of the Security Council have given the Iraqi offer a mixed reaction. The United States and Britain expressed skepticism and stressed that Iraq must provide "unfettered" access to all sites for inspections. Russia's Foreign Ministry said the Iraqi offer signaled an important step toward solving the political impasse over new inspections.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack said today the U.S. will maintain its policy of seeking to oust Iraq's President Saddam Hussein, which he says is a separate issue from the weapons inspections. McCormack says, in any event, the Iraqi leader must unequivocally agree to inspections at all times and not propose further negotiations.
Despite skepticism over the Iraqi move, coming at a time of mounting reports of a U.S. military plan to oust Saddam Hussein, there is a feeling among some observers that this could present an opportunity to get the inspectors back into Iraq.
That's the view of Nancy Soderberg, a former high-ranking U.S. diplomat at the United Nations and currently vice president of the International Crisis Group, an independent group that works toward conflict prevention.
Soderberg told RFE/RL that the U.S. administration could help engineer the return of inspectors to Iraq by applying pressure on Russia, Iraq's biggest ally on the Security Council. Russia, France, and China had abstained on Resolution 1284, which had signaled to Iraq that the council was not committed to new inspections. Soderberg says a concerted U.S. effort at this moment could help build a united front on the council.
"If they want to get the inspectors back into Iraq and test the seriousness of the proposition, somebody has to go to Moscow and cut a deal with the Russians and then to Paris so that you get an unequivocal message from the Russians and the French that this time it's serious and [Iraq] can't let the inspectors back in and continue this cat-and-mouse game of four to five years ago."
Annan met Sabri at talks in Vienna early last month and said afterward he was open to further "technical" talks. At the previous talks, Blix explained how UNMOVIC would work and carry out its inspections and sought to allay Iraqi concerns that the inspection process would be abused.