Iraq is ready to renew dialogue with the United Nations in the New Year on ending a decade-old embargo, but strictly on its own terms, which rule out the return of arms inspectors. "Iraq has already made clear its position, and this has not changed up until now," an Iraqi official told AFP.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz underlined Thursday that Baghdad, although currently studying a UN proposal to resume talks after more than a year, was categorically opposed to a resumption of weapons inspections in Iraq. Aziz was speaking in Moscow at the end of a trip that also took him to Beijing.
China, along with Russia, are the two countries on the UN Security Council most favorable to lifting international sanctions, a precondition Baghdad has set for any resumption of cooperation with the UN.
Russian diplomatic sources told Interfax that Moscow called on Iraq to "resume the international monitoring of Baghdad's banned military programs." But the Kremlin also insisted that the inspections should be linked to "clear deadlines for lifting the blockade of that country and sanctions against it," Interfax said.
"Baghdad is studying such a proposal," Aziz had said earlier of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's suggestion to launch negotiations over a possible inspectors' return. The UN withdrew arms inspectors from its special disarmament commission (UNSCOM) from Iraq in December 1998 on the eve of US and British air raids that were mounted after Baghdad hindered their work.
Iraq has repeatedly said it would not cooperate with the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), UNSCOM's successor set up by the Security Council last December in Resolution 1284, which offers to suspend the sanctions if Baghdad cooperates fully with the inspectors.
"The mere talk of UN inspectors returning to Iraq according to a formula, old or new, makes no sense," the Iraqi official told AFP. "Iraq is not going to go backwards. It is interested in the future, through the lifting of the embargo and a normalization of relations with other countries in the world," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The government Al-Thawra newspaper said Thursday that "the Iraqis are now more than ever determined to stick to their right" to lift the embargo the UN imposed on Baghdad for invading Kuwait in 1990. According to the paper, the United States "began to impose conditions as soon as Iraq said it was ready to resume dialogue with the United Nations without preconditions".
Aziz and Annan spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said separately on Wednesday that talks would resume in early 2001. Annan discussed the date of a new meeting with the Iraqi ambassador to the UN, Said Hasan, on Tuesday, and "they agreed to shoot for after Ramadan, early next year," Eckhard said.
Eckhard said Annan wanted to follow up on a meeting he had with Iraq's second highest official, Ezzat Ibrahim, during a pan-Islamic conference in Doha, the capital of the Gulf emirate of Qatar, on November 13. Iraq said after the meeting that "both sides accepted ... to engage in a comprehensive dialogue without any preconditions."
"In Doha, he asked the Iraqis to consider what shape the talks should have and what the agenda should be," Eckhard said. Iraq's firm stance "will complicate the possibility of a solution through dialogue, and without a change in attitude from one of the two sides, it will be difficult to reach an agreement," a western diplomat in Baghdad said. — (AFP, Baghdad)
© Agence France Presse 2000
By Farouk Choukri
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)