U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan responded skeptically to Iraq's proposal for technical talks with the chief U.N. weapons inspector, saying the invitation does not follow the procedure laid out by the Security Council.
Iraq has invited chief arms inspector Hans Blix to Baghdad for technical talks on disarmament issues. But the problem, as U.N. officials see it, is that Iraq wants those talks to include a comprehensive review of its weapons of mass destruction programs.
The Security Council, in a resolution three years ago, specified that Iraq must first agree to re-admit the inspection teams, blocked by Iraq since late 1998, and allow on-site inspections for no less than 60 days, before Mr. Blix can start discussing what remains to be done. The lifting of U.N. sanctions on Iraq, imposed when Iraq invaded Kuwait 12 years ago, is tied to its compliance with disarmament demands.
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said secretary-general Annan will discuss the Iraqi invitation with the Security Council on Monday. "He is calling it to the attention of the Council because they are the ones that prescribed the formula for the resumption of inspections," he said. "I do not think you want to say he is predisposed one way or another. He wants to show it to them and get their reaction."
U.N. diplomats say privately there seems to be little chance of the Council agreeing to Iraq's terms. Key governments on the Council are divided. Russia has welcomed Iraq's invitation. But the United States and Britain have already expressed skepticism, demanding Iraq grant immediate, unfettered access to the arms inspectors.
Iraq agreed after the 1991 Gulf war to end its most dangerous weapons programs. But its relationship with the U.N. arms inspectors has been rocky throughout. Iraq maintains the inspections are too intrusive and certain governments, mainly the United States, have planted spies on the teams.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan has held three rounds of talks this year alone with Iraq in an effort to get the inspectors back into the country. After the last meeting, he said he would not attend future meetings until he sees concrete signs of progress.