Iraq asks for postponement of talks with Annan

Iraq asks for postponement of talks with Annan

Talks between United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and senior Iraqi officials that were set to take place next week will be postponed at the request of Baghdad, a UN spokesman announced today.

"We are in the process of trying to find new suitable dates for these discussions," spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters in New York.

Originally scheduled for 18 and 19 April, the talks were to follow on meetings between the Secretary-General and Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri held in New York on 7 March.

Asked about Iraq's reason for the postponement, Mr. Eckhard said, "They indicated to us that they did not want anything to distract from the attention being given to the problem in the Middle East."

When the original mid-April dates were announced late last month, Mr. Eckhard had said the Secretary-General was "hoping for a substantive and focused discussion, specifically on the issue of arms inspectors to Iraq." UN inspectors have not been able to operate in the country since 1998.

Meanwhile in a letter released today at UN Headquarters in New York, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it remained ready to go into Iraq once it gets the green light.

"If it were to resume these verification activities, and provided that it could satisfy itself that Iraq's nuclear activities and nuclear assets have not changed since December 1998, the Agency would be in a position to move to the full implementation of its ongoing monitoring and verification plan," IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said in his letter to the President of the Security Council.