A delegation of four senior U.N. officials will accompany Secretary-General Kofi Annan to Vienna next week for another round of talks with Iraq, amid signs that Baghdad is ready to meet some Security Council demands for the lifting of sanctions. Punitive measures were imposed on Iraq shortly after it invaded neighboring Kuwait in 1990.
Getting arms inspectors back into Iraq after an absence of nearly four years is the main objective of the U.N.-Iraqi talks, and the key to lifting U.N. sanctions. Hans Blix, the chief of the inspection team, will be with Secretary-General Annan in Vienna for two days of talks, beginning July 4.
The Secretary-General warned recently that the talks with Iraq could not go on forever, and he expressed hope that the Vienna meeting will be decisive.
Iraq would like to see a suspension of the sanctions while it negotiates a return of the arms inspectors. U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard says the Security Council has been quite specific on when sanctions can be removed, and that is what the Secretary-General is obliged to follow.
"That is dependent on the full implementation of the Security Council resolutions related to Iraq," he said. "The council has laid out the path for the lifting of sanctions and that is the path the Secretary-General is asking Iraq to take."
U.N. diplomats are not especially optimistic about a breakthrough in Iraq's opposition to the inspection teams. But they perceive movement in Baghdad's willingness to start meeting U.N. demands.
Iraq announced at the last round of talks in New York that it is ready to give back to Kuwait a substantial number of archives it took out of the country during the Iraqi occupation. The Vienna meeting is expected to lead to agreement on a mechanism for turning the material over.
U.N. spokesman Eckhard says the Secretary-General is encouraged. He shrugged off suggestions that Iraq might be using the property issue as a tactic to divert attention from the inspections.
"At the end of the last round he saw this announcement on the archives as a step forward, something that can improve the climate in which these talks are taking place," he said. "So he sees this as a positive sign. I do not think he sees this as a diversion."
Iraq has concerns it wants the United Nations to deal with, such as threats by the Bush administration to topple Saddam Hussein and the so-called no-fly zones the United States and Britain have imposed over parts of Iraq.
But these issues are not on the agenda of the U.N. talks. U.N. officials have reminded Iraq repeatedly that they are not authorized to discuss them.