UN-Iraq Talks Fail to Yield Progress on Inspections

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AS WASHINGTON DEBATED taking military action against Iraq, representatives from the United Nations and Baghdad exchanged views during July and August over the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq but were unable to resolve their differences.

Following up their previous meetings in March and May, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Hans Blix, executive chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), met with an Iraqi delegation in Vienna July 4 and 5. UNMOVIC is the organization charged with overseeing Iraq's compliance with its disarmament obligations. The officials discussed remaining disarmament issues, as Iraq had requested, and logistical arrangements for inspections, at UNMOVIC's request, but the meeting ended without agreement.

The crux of the dispute is Iraq's wish to discuss weapons inspections in conjunction with what it terms a "comprehensive settlement," which would address other issues, such as the no-fly zones enforced by the United States and the United Kingdom, and compensation payments related to the Persian Gulf War. The UN, however, insists that inspections begin before other issues can be discussed, as required by Security Council resolutions.

After the July meetings failed to reach a resolution, the Iraqi foreign minister, Naji Sabri, sent a letter August 1 to Annan inviting Blix and UNMOVIC experts to Baghdad to review the results of weapons inspections conducted between 1991 and 1998 and to discuss how to resolve outstanding issues. "We cannot think of starting a new stage without solving the pending issues of the previous stage," Sabri said in the letter.

In an August 6 letter, Annan welcomed Iraq's "desire to continue our dialogue" but rejected its proposal because it did not allow for inspections to begin immediately. Resolution 1284, passed in 1999, mandates that inspectors start work in Iraq prior to drawing up a list of remaining disarmament tasks, in order to first determine what those tasks should be.

Iraq replied to Annan in an August 15 letter that reiterated its previous proposal and addressed the terms of the "comprehensive settlement" it envisions. Iraq wants an agreement that will link inspections to such issues as economic sanctions, a nuclear-weaponfree-zone in the Middle East, the no-fly zones, and the U.S. policy of regime change. The letter stated that these issues and Iraq's compensation payments should be addressed before discussing inspections.

Iraq disputes the United Nations' contention that Resolution 1284 clearly requires inspections to begin before other issues are discussed. According to Baghdad, Resolution 1382, passed in 2001, states that Resolution 1284 is vague and calls for a comprehensive settlement. The relevant portion of Resolution 1382 states that the Security Council "reaffirms its commitment to a comprehensive settlement on the basis of the relevant resolutions of the Security Council, including any clarification necessary for the implementation of resolution 1284."

U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte characterized Annan's rejection of Iraq's August 15 invitation as consistent with the views of Security Council members and said that the council would not take up Iraq's proposals. The United States held the presidency of the Security Council in August. …