The chairman of the United Nations arms inspection team for Iraq said Monday he was hiring extra staff in case Baghdad agreed to a resumption of inspections.
In his quarterly report to the UN Security Council, Hans Blix said he welcomed "Iraq's willingness to discuss issues related to inspections in Iraq".
He added that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is scheduled to hold a third round of talks with Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri in Vienna on July 4 and 5, according to AFP.
Blix participated in the two previous rounds, held in New York in March and May and diplomats said the tone of his report reflected a more positive attitude of the Iraqi government since fruitless talks held last year.
Blix conveyed that in Vienna, he would "focus on Iraq's acceptance of the practical arrangements necessary for the resumption of inspections" because it would be "unfortunate if the inspectors were to encounter practical problems when they started to work in Iraq."
There have been no UN arms inspectors in Iraq since December 1998, when the former commission, UNSCOM, withdrew on the eve of a bombing campaign carried out by the United States and Britain.
Baghdad had accused UNSCOM of spying for Washington, and until recently it said it would have nothing to do with the new UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) which Blix heads.
However, diplomats said there had been a big change in Iraq's attitude.
"A year go, the Iraqis were saying 'no, never, chapter closed,' but at least now they are willing to discuss the possibility of a resumption of inspections," one diplomat said, according to AFP.
"In the light of the possibility of resumed inspection work, the commission is increasing its readiness by recruiting more staff for posts at headquarters that had previously remained unfilled," Blix wrote.
At the end of last month, UNMOVIC had 58 professional grade staff at headquarters, plus a roster of 230 experts available for work in Iraq at short notice.
UN sources said Blix had in mind to hire around eight extra staff.
UNMOVIC has completed a fifth month-long basic training course for experts on its roster, and over 80 of the experts had also attended advanced courses on subjects such as missiles, Blix said.
He said a number of new positions had also been created to enable UNMOVIC to take on a heavier workload since the Security Council adopted new vetting procedures for goods imported into Iraq under the UN's oil-for-food program.
The sources said another half dozen people were needed to examine contracts in wake of a goods review list drawn up by the council to prevent Iraq acquiring items that might be diverted to military use.
"The most pressing current challenge for UNMOVIC" was to review about 2,000 contracts which had been blocked by the council's sanctions committee under old procedures because they might contain "dual-use" items, Blix said.
The contracts must all be re-processed within 120 days of the start on May 30 of the new phase of the oil-for-food program. (Albawaba.com)
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