U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan says talks between Baghdad officials and Hans Blix, the chief U.N. arms inspector, may be considered if Iraq is willing to comply with Security Council resolutions.
Last week, Mr. Annan welcomed a letter from Iraq offering to restart talks aimed at allowing U.N. arms inspectors to return to Iraq to continue their search for weapons of mass destruction. The letter marked the first time the Iraqis have suggested willingness to let the arms inspectors return since their 1998 departure on the eve of a joint U.S.-British bombing raid.
But the Secretary General said the invitation will only be seriously considered if Iraq honors Security Council requirements and the specific program Mr. Blix and the inspection team have worked out. "I think the way Mr. Blix sees it, he and his team would go to Iraq once Iraq agrees, and spend about 60 days to determine what has to be done," said Mr. Annan. "They will have an opportunity to discuss with the Iraqis, go over the procedures and how they intend to do their work and come back and report to the Security Council and then move on from there. I think this is the way the chief inspector will want to go. This is what the Iraqis will have to look at."
Mr. Annan said he is not sure if the letter represents a real change in attitude on the part of the Iraqis, but he described the timing as "interesting."
Skeptics, including the Bush Administration, believe reports of planned U.S. military action against Iraq prompted the invitation. Mr. Annan cautioned against such an attack, noting the "current circumstances of what is happening in the Middle East."
Mr. Annan is scheduled to meet with the Security Council to discuss a response to the Iraqi invitation.