Iraq is ready to embark upon “a fresh, comprehensive and unconditional dialogue with the UN Security Council to find ways of breaking the impasse, including the speedy lifting of the sanctions,” Iraq’s Deputy Foreign Minister Nizar Hamdoon told MEES in an interview conducted via the internet.
Mr Hamdoon’s comments coincided with an announcement on 29 November from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that he would be starting talks with Iraqi officials in New York next January.
UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said he hoped “that Iraq would agree to accept [weapons] inspectors as the first step towards full compliance with the existing resolutions.”
Agreement in principle to start a comprehensive dialogue was reached after a meeting between Mr Annan and Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Sa'id al-Sahaf in Doha in November (MEES, 20 November).
At the time, Mr Annan made it clear that while he was ready to hold talks with Iraq, he was also bound by UN Security Council resolutions.
Mr Eckhard said on 29 November that “the Security Council has laid down the conditions. The secretary-general is trying to get Iraq to agree to those conditions. Whether he’ll succeed or not remains to be seen.”
Questioned about reports that Russia’s Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was formulating a compromise formula to modify UN resolution 1284 to make it acceptable to Iraq, Mr Hamdoon said “many other nations, including Russia, do have ideas and thoughts to redevelop 1284 in a way they think Iraq might accept.
Up until now Iraq has seen no formula or provisions that it might consider.” Mr Hamdoon was also critical of the UN oil-for-food program, saying it had “created problems on many levels, including the accumulation at one point of over $11bn and the unjust deduction of billions of dollars, which were much needed in Iraq, to the compensation fund and UN activities.
The money accumulated from the put-on-hold contracts basically covers infrastructural projects that are necessary for the lifestyle of the Iraqi people.”
At the same time, Mr Hamdoon said that Iraq intends to pursue the demand it has submitted to the Sanctions Committee for the international body to meet the domestic costs of oil production and approve the new price formula (MEES, 27 November).
He declined to specify what action Iraq would take if its request was turned down, but said “the Security Council will have to tackle the matter,” adding that his government “reserves the right to take whatever measures” it deems to be appropriate.
On relations between Iraq and Iran, Mr Hamdoon said major differences remained, despite increased contacts between the two sides. In the aftermath of the meeting in Caracas last September between President Mohammed Khatami and Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yasin Ramadan, “there were signs that Iran was getting closer to a genuine relationship with Iraq.”
Nevertheless, the Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister continued, “it is difficult to judge Iran’s determination to do that. We look forward to a serious approach by them.” Asked about progress towards eliminating the many differences between Iraq and Iran, Mr Hamdoon replied: “Almost all relevant bilateral issues are still on the table awaiting a resolution.”
Regular Flights To Baghdad By Year-End:
Concerning the increasing frequency of airliners flying into Iraq in defiance of the UN ban, Mr Hamdoon said he expected “regular flights [to Baghdad] to start before the end of the year.
The nations that are expected to lead the effort are Jordan, Russia and the UAE. France is also on line.” On 30 November Royal Jordanian began a weekly charter service from 'Amman to Baghdad. Passengers buying tickets from travel agents have to prove that they are flying to Iraq for specific humanitarian reasons.
Mr Hamdoon said that while Royal Jordanian was not yet resuming normal routine flights, Iraq hoped that the new air link would “turn, de facto, into a commercial service with the passing of time. It looks as though everybody’s eyes are on everybody else, waiting for someone to start regular flights to Baghdad.”
Over recent weeks, aircraft from the countries mentioned above and from a range of other Arab and international states have been landing in Iraq, with only a small minority of the flights having received UN authorization.
The Iraqi Government has been keen to encourage the resumption of air links with Baghdad as a way of challenging and undermining sanctions.
In September, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq 'Aziz urged Arab states to adopt “plane diplomacy” and organize more flights, despite strong condemnation from the US (MEES, 2 October).
In October, Russia’s Vnukovo Airlines began a weekly charter service from Moscow to Baghdad and Aeroflot has signed an agreement in principle with Iraq to resume passenger services at an unspecified date in the future (MEES, 6 November and 16 October).
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)