Annan and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister discuss return of UN weapons inspectors
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, today discussed the return of UN weapons inspectors to the country during talks held on the margins of the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The meeting was part of Mr. Annan's ongoing dialogue with the Iraqi authorities aimed at agreeing on the return of UN weapons inspectors to the country - absent since 1998 - which in turn could lead to a lifting of sanctions against Iraq.
"At this stage I cannot say they've taken a decision to allow inspectors," Mr. Annan told the press following the talks. "They would want to have an assurance that things would be different this time."
The Secretary-General went on to say "and also the fact that there's a threat of military action, [Tariq Aziz] is not sure what difference allowing the inspectors would make."
UN spokesman Fred Eckhard, asked what Mr. Annan said to Tariq Aziz, noted that during this meeting, as in previous sessions with Iraqi officials in New York and Vienna, the first item on the Secretary-General's agenda was the return of inspectors. "That's what the Security Council expects will happen, and that's a necessary first step for any progress to be made on the lifting of sanctions," the spokesman said.
Responding to a question on what sort of assurances the Secretary-General could give Iraq, the spokesman said it was not up to Mr. Annan to give assurances, adding that this was an issue between Iraq and the Security Council. "On the matter of the conduct of United Nations inspectors, he has gone a long way to assure the Iraqis that the inspectors will carry out their work in a professional way," Mr. Eckhard said, "But he's not in a position to make any commitments on behalf of Security Council members."
Also during the Johannesburg Summit, the Secretary-General had a number of other bilateral meetings with heads of delegations, including President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres of Israel, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Prime Minister Jean Chrétien of Canada.
On Monday, Mr. Annan attended several events on the sidelines of the Summit, including a meeting of the Business Action of Sustainable Development and a question-and-answer session with members of the Civil Society Forum.
Meanwhile, his wife, Nane Annan, participated in events organized by the non-governmental organization WASH, or Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for All.