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Monday, 30 September, 2002, 15:13 GMT 16:13 UK
Sombre mood as Iraq faces UN
Iraq delegation in Vienna
Iraqi delegation prepare for talks with UN in Vienna

You can get close, but not that close, to the negotiations.

A small red rope barrier holds you back either side of the corridor leading to Conference Room Four. Blue-shirted UN police officers prowl.

Those UN officials who have been inside the room where war could be delayed, if not averted altogether, say that the two sides are face to face across a narrow, rectangular table.

They're sitting on standard-issue 1960s comfy brown leather chairs.


Officials are doing their best to remove any sense of drama or political import from these talks

On one side, nine Iraqi delegates.

On the other, two teams of top UN officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who look for nuclear weapons and Unmovic, the chemical and biological weapons experts.

Boring business

The mood is businesslike, we've been told.

"We're moving along nicely", said the IAEA spokesman.

All three delegations, he said, are being thorough and methodical.

And that, officially at least, is about it.

The officials here are doing their best to remove any sense of drama or political import from these talks. They won't even describe them as negotiations.

They're saying that what needs to be arranged at the moment are the boring, practical logistics that will accompany the return of the weapons inspectors to Iraq.

Item One on the agenda is discussion about such things as accommodation, security, visas, communications.

The officials studiously refer to themselves as the "technical" arm of the UN. But that is all rather disingenuous.

Unanswered questions

They are well aware that these talks have vast significance and yet are frustratingly clouded and neutered by the unresolved swirl of international diplomacy.

The snarling gorilla in the corner of Conference Room Four is the unanswered question as to whether there will be a new UN Security Council resolution governing the return of the inspectors.

One UN official here in Vienna said that some of the conditions the Americans were chasing were "insane", apparently designed only as "a provocation".

In the meantime, the Iraqis and the UN officials carry on their detailed preparations for a return on the inspectors, perhaps by as soon as mid-October.

Around them, on the seventh floor of the extravagantly ugly Vienna International Centre, the other day-to-day business of the UN continues, a round-table on Economic Development and Social Demand Satisfaction in Latin America, an ad hoc Committee for Negotiation of a Convention Against Corruption, Session 3.

One official said that the weapons inspectors' meeting began with a joke about the weather in Baghdad.

But in reality, the talk could not be more serious.


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30 Sep 02 | Americas
19 Sep 02 | Europe
30 Sep 02 | Middle East
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