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UN-Iraq talks to start on 1 May in New York

UN-Iraq talks to start on 1 May in New York

The next round of talks between United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and senior Iraqi officials will be held at UN Headquarters in New York in early May, a UN spokesman announced today.

Spokesman Fred Eckhard told a press briefing that the discussions would open on 1 May and span three days instead of the anticipated two because the Secretary-General may be called out of town on 2 May. The talks had originally been scheduled for 18-19 April.

Mr. Eckhard said the Secretary-General's delegation would include Hans Blix, the Executive Chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and Mohammed ElBaradei, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Iraqi delegation will be headed by Foreign Minister Naji Sabri.

The talks will follow on meetings between the Secretary-General and Foreign Minister Sabri held in New York on 7 March. Mr. Blix had attended that round while Mr. ElBaradei had not, according to the spokesman.

"The objective is for Iraq to come into full compliance with Security Council resolutions which specifically - and probably first and foremost as far as these talks are concerned - means allowing UN inspectors to go back to Iraq to finish the verification of disarmament in terms of weapons of mass destruction," said Mr. Eckhard. UN inspectors have not been able to operate in the country since 1998.

In another development, the UN Office of the Iraq Programme, which runs the 'oil-for-food' humanitarian scheme, reported today that Iraq had maintained its suspension of petroleum exports over the past week. The suspension is expected to result in a $1.3 billion revenue loss for the effort, which allows Baghdad to use a portion of its crude export earnings to purchase relief supplies.