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Annan holds 'frank and useful' talks with Iraqi Foreign Minister

Annan holds 'frank and useful' talks with Iraqi Foreign Minister

Kofi Annan with Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri
Calling it a "useful" effort, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi today held two meetings with the Iraqi Foreign Minister, focusing on such key issues as the return of UN arms inspectors to the country.

"So far, so good," the Secretary-General told reporters after the end of this morning's session with Foreign Minister Naji Sabri.

After the conclusion of the second meeting in the afternoon, Mr. Annan's spokesman said the Secretary-General had found the talks "both frank and useful." They focused on core issues that included the return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq; Kuwaiti and Iraqi missing persons; and the return of Kuwaiti property.

Agreement was reached "that a concrete way will be found for Iraq to return some Kuwaiti property through the UN" as required by Security Council resolutions, spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

"The Iraqi side raised a number of specific concerns, such as the lifting of sanctions, no-fly zones and establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East," he noted. "It was agreed that the two parties would meet for further discussions in mid-April, based on a well-defined agenda agreed in advance."

Mr. Annan, who is scheduled to brief the Council on the talks during closed consultations on Friday, told reporters on arrival at UN Headquarters in New York this morning that the UN delegation would be "pressing for the return of the [weapons] inspectors" who have not been able to operate in the country since 1998.

"The questions of the inspectors and return of the inspectors has been one of the key bones of contentions between the United Nations and Iraq," he said, expressing hope that the Baghdad delegation would work "in a constructive spirit."

Asked about the issue of lifting the economic measures that have been in place against Baghdad since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, he replied, "The eventual suspension of sanctions, once Iraq has performed, is part of the discussion."

Responding to a question about the possibility of military action, the Secretary-General said he "wouldn't want to see a widening conflict" in the region.

"I think we have our hands full with the tragedy that is going there already, so I would want to see a situation where we are able to resolve our differences diplomatically and that Iraq comes into compliance," he said. "If that is done I don't think the Council will take any further action."

Regional leaders, he added, "would want to see this issue settled peacefully, and they are all looking forward to a positive outcome that they would also ensure to take it up in Beirut in the [upcoming] Arab [League] Summit."

Kofi Annan and Mr. Naji Sabri

Following the meeting, which was held in two parts, comprising morning and afternoon sessions, Mr. Sabri said both sides had presented their concerns, adding, "we had a positive and constructive exchange of views on these concerns."

The Foreign Minister confirmed that the meeting would resume in mid-April "to continue our dialogue."