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Annan sees considerable streamlining of UN Oil-for-Food programme for Iraq

Annan sees considerable streamlining of UN Oil-for-Food programme for Iraq

Kofi Annan
Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today he expected to see some considerable improvements in the coming weeks in streamlining the United Nations Oil-for-Food programme, which is the only source of rations for 60 per cent of Iraq's population.

"As recently as yesterday, the (Security) Council was discussing the Oil-for-Food and how the procedures can be streamlined to accelerate delivery of goods," Mr. Annan told reporters after meeting with Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner in Vienna, where he is on an official visit.

"Because it was a rather cumbersome procedure and of course there are historical reasons for that and attempts are being made to streamline it to be able to facilitate shipment of goods into the country," he added. "And I think we will be seeing some considerable improvement in the coming weeks."

Benon Sevan, Executive Director of the UN Office of the Iraq Programme (OIP), which oversees the programme, yesterday urged the Council to extend it for another three weeks, until 3 June, so that supplies already in the pipeline can be delivered. Under the programme Iraq was allowed to use a portion of its oil revenues to buy food and other relief supplies, while the rest was used for reparation claims against Baghdad stemming from its invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

The programme was temporarily halted on 17 March after the withdrawal of all UN staff from Iraq on the eve of hostilities. The Council adopted a new resolution on 28 March giving Mr. Annan more authority to administer it for the next 45 days, until 12 May, including prioritizing deliveries and finding new entry ports to speed shipment.

Asked about the dispute over the return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq, Mr. Annan said the Security Council resolution on the books states that the inspectors are to go back, although he added the Council is free to amend that resolution.

"I think it is the Council resolution does require certification from the inspectors," he said. "Of course, the situation in Iraq has changed. The current resolution will demand that the inspectors go back. The Council is free to amend it and it may well do that. But until they do that, this is a resolution on the books and it is that resolution that is guiding Mr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei here in Vienna. And until that changes, that is the resolution that they should follow."

Hans Blix, Executive Chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) in charge of searching for banned chemical, biological and ballistic weapons, and Mohamed ElBaradei, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which was searching for nuclear materials, yesterday told the Security Council they would like the inspections teams to return.

The Secretary-General also welcomed the latest "change in tone" in relations between the United States and Syria. "I am encouraged to notice that the Americans themselves have indicated that Syria is cooperating with them and there has been a change in tone, which I welcome," he said in reply to a question.

"And I think it is important that all these issues be solved peacefully and through dialogue and diplomatically, and I expect that's what will happen in the case of Syria," he added. Last week Mr. Annan voiced his concern that recent statements directed at Syria should not contribute to a wider destabilization in a region already affected heavily by the war in Iraq.

He also said serious attempts were underway to heal the rifts in the Security Council on Iraq so that the international community can focus on helping the Iraqi people rebuild their state and move on to tackle other urgent issues that confront the international community.

During his meeting with Ms. Ferrero-Waldner, Mr. Annan discussed the future UN role in Iraq, efforts to form a Palestinian government under Prime Minister Abu Mazen, the prospects for reviving Cyprus peace talks and the UN's relations with the city of Vienna, home of the third UN Headquarters.

Following the press encounter, the Secretary-General went to Parliament, where he met first with the President of the National Council, Andreas Khol, and then with leaders of all the political parties. He briefed them on Security Council deliberations on Iraq, and emphasized that Council unity is essential.

In the afternoon, Mr. Annan went to the Federal Chancellery, where Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel hosted a luncheon in his honour. After lunch, he and the Chancellor met for half an hour for a discussion of European Union enlargement, Iraq, the Balkans, the Middle East and Cyprus.

Mr. Annan then left Vienna for Geneva, where he is to address the UN Commission on Human Rights tomorrow.