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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 20:48 GMT
Annan to tackle Iraq over arms
UN weapon inspectors in Baghdad, Iraq in 1998
The UN inspector issue could spark a new war
The United Nations has announced that Secretary General Kofi Annan will meet Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri in New York on 7 March.

It is his first meeting with Iraqi officials in over a year and comes amid reports that the United States is considering new military action against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

We think the conversation should be very short

Ric Grenell
US spokesman at the United Nations
A spokesman for Mr Annan said talks would focus on implementing UN resolutions imposed since the end of the Gulf War in 1990, including the return of UN weapons inspectors.

Washington is accusing Iraq of seeking to develop new weapons of mass destruction.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, shown here in London, 25 February
Annan has the UN Security Council firmly behind him

The US spokesman at the United Nations, Ric Grenell, underlined Washington's tough stance:

"We think the conversation should be very short. The Iraqis know that we wait for them to comply with the UN resolutions."

Annan's stronger hand

The BBC's UN correspondent, Greg Barrow, says expectations are high for the Annan-Sabri meeting, both men being aware of the need for real progress.

If the UN weapons inspectors continue to be excluded, this could give the United States the excuse to take military action.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri
Iraq is under new US pressure after the 11 September terror attacks

Mr Annan, for his part, is backed by a UN Security Council which is more united on dealing with Iraq than it has been any time in recent years.

Russia, one of Iraq's closest allies among the permanent five members of the Security Council, has signalled that it is energetically prodding Iraq into allowing UN inspectors back.

But while Moscow believes the return of the inspectors alone should lead to a swift suspension of UN sanctions, other permanent members argue that Iraq must first clearly show that it has abandoned its weapons programmes.

The BBC's Greg Barrow
"It is the first such meeting in over a year"
See also:

07 Nov 01 | Middle East
Iraq 'smart sanctions' postponed
30 Oct 01 | Middle East
Iraq condemns US 'aggression'
28 Oct 01 | Middle East
Rumsfeld: Iraq may be target
19 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iraq
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