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UN-Iraq talks beginning as US seeks to support for sanctions

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February 27, 2001 


UNITED NATIONS-(AP) - Iraq and the United Nations opened a new chapter in their tumultuous relations Monday with talks aimed at breaking an impasse that has kept U.N. weapons inspectors out of Baghdad for over two years.

Expectations were low that two days of talks between Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf would produce any breakthrough on restarting inspections - or on lifting U.N. sanctions on Iraq, as Baghdad has demanded.

Indeed, Annan tempered expectations as he arrived at U.N. headquarters for the meeting Monday, saying he didn't expect any "miracles." But he said he was encouraged by what he called an "important and healthy shift" in the attitude about Iraq sanctions that has begun to emerge from certain governments.

He cited the current review that the Bush administration is conducting into its Iraq policy, and other similar assessments being undertaken by other governments.

"For a long time the attitude had been, `This is our policy. This the way we do things,"' Annan said. "But I think recently we have put on the table that critical question of `What should we be doing?' And I hope out of this review and search will emerge a constructive way forward."

Al-Sahhaf for his part said he would explain in detail during the talks that Iraq had fully complied with U.N. resolutions requiring that it destroy its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and long-range missiles used to deliver them.

"Now it is the role of the Security Council to implement its mutual obligations towards Iraq: That means an immediate lift of sanctions imposed on Iraq," al-Sahhaf told reporters heading into the meetings.

U.N. weapons inspectors left Iraq on Dec. 16, 1998 - hours before the United States and Britain launched a four-day airstrike campaign to punish Baghdad for what they said was its failure to cooperate with U.N. arms searches.

Al-Sahhaf said upon his departure from Baghdad on Wednesday that Iraq wouldn't accept the inspectors as a condition to lifting sanctions.

But the Security Council has said U.N. weapons inspectors must return to Iraq to start verifying its weapons are gone before they would consider suspending the sweeping trade embargo imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

"We would hope - since we're always optimistic - that the Iraqis would come and say that they have finally decided to begin implementing the resolutions," said Acting U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham. "But that's certainly not the expectation."

Hopes for progress from the U.N. end are also tempered by uncertainties surrounding the Bush administration's yet-to-be-formulated Iraq policy. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is in the region, marking the 10th anniversary of Kuwait's liberation from Iraq and meeting with Iraq's neighbors. He is trying to impress on them the American view that Saddam Hussein poses a threat.

But support for sanctions in the Middle East and elsewhere is waning after 10 years. At the United Nations, Annan himself has questioned how an organization that was created to care for the weak and vulnerable has instead become the source of suffering for an entire population.

"At least we should give some hope to the Iraqi people," said Deputy Chinese Ambassador Shen Guofang. "I think that is reasonable."

China, as well as France and Russia, have pressed for sanctions against Iraq to be suspended.

These three permanent Security Council members have also sharply criticized U.S. and British patrols of the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, which were established after the Gulf War to protect minority Kurds and Shiites.

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