Iraq wants broader agenda during high-level talks with U.N. on weapons inspectors

Wednesday, April 24th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ The United Nations wants high-level talks with Iraq in early May to focus on the return of U.N. weapons inspectors, but Iraq says it wants to resolve all pending issues, including American threats against the country.

The U.N. wants Iraq to comply with Security Council resolutions and allow the inspectors to finish checking for weapons of mass destruction, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Tuesday.

But Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Al-Douri, in an interview with The Associated Press, said his government has a much broader agenda and hopes to resolve ``all pending issues with the United Nations.''

He cited the ``no-fly'' zones over northern and southern Iraq patrolled by U.S. and British aircraft, ``the threat of Americans against Iraq'' and pending council resolutions.

Eckhard announced Tuesday that the talks between U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri will be held from May 1-3, though Annan may be out of town on May 2.

The talks were originally set for mid-April, but Iraq demanded a delay, believing the meetings would be dominated by the Palestinian issue if they were held so soon.

The secretary-general said their initial one-day meeting on March 7 had been ``a good start.'' But it produced no sign Iraq would allow weapons inspectors to return _ the first step toward lifting 11-year-old U.N. sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait and a key demand of the United States and other council members.

Inspectors left Baghdad before the United States and Britain carried out airstrikes in December 1998 to punish Iraq for not cooperating with the inspection program. Saddam Hussein's government has barred them from returning.

President Bush has warned Saddam that he faces unspecified consequences if he fails to heed American demands that inspectors be allowed into Iraq.

At the March 7 meeting, Iraq did not rule out allowing the return of weapons inspectors but indicated it wants inspections to be conducted for a limited time period and lead to certification that the country is free of weapons of mass destruction.

Western officials, however, reject any conditions set by Iraq and demand unfettered access to suspected weapons sites.

``There are a lot of issues, so we will hope that all these issues will be resolved _ at least (that) we have a common understanding with the secretary-general and with the United Nations,'' Al-Douri said.