Annan says Iraqi officials’ public comments on UN inspections will not affect talks

Annan says Iraqi officials’ public comments on UN inspections will not affect talks

The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, today said public comments by Iraqi officials rejecting the return of UN weapons inspectors would not affect his dialogue with Baghdad, set to resume next month.

"As far as I'm concerned, the [UN-Iraq] discussions are taking place behind closed doors and these public statements may not necessarily reflect what will happen behind closed doors when we get together," the Secretary-General said in response to questions during a news conference in New York. "We started reasonably well but it was only a start and one should not conclude that it is going to succeed or fail."

The Secretary-General added that he would "aggressively" pursue the UN's aim during talks slated for April. "My objective is clear: that there is compliance and return of the inspectors, and so I will focus on what their envoy tells me when they meet and not what is being said in the papers," he said.

Asked whether he would seek to work out a deal with Iraqi officials, the Secretary-General said any such arrangement would have to come from the Security Council. "My mandate is clear: I'm basing my discussions with them, and my demands, on the Council resolutions and not [going] beyond that."

Meanwhile in Geneva, the Governing Council of the UN Compensation Commission, which pays damages arising from Iraq's 1990 invasion and subsequent occupation of Kuwait, approved today payments totalling nearly $1.8 billion. To date, the Commission has awarded compensation of over $37.7 billion to successful claimants.