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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 22:00 GMT
Iraq keeps talking on arms inspectors
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri (L) meets UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
Mr Sabri (left) held three hours of talks with Mr Annan
Iraq and the UN are to hold further talks in mid-April on the possible return of arms inspectors to the country.

The announcement came after Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri met for almost three hours with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York, the first such session in more than a year.

We had a constructive and positive exchange of views

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri
Mr Sabri described the talks as "a constructive and positive exchange of views", while Mr Annan's spokesman said they had made "a good start".

But Britain's ambassador to the UN, Jeremy Greenstock, said it was too early to know whether Iraq was serious about letting inspectors back in.

The talks follow mounting pressure from the United States for tough action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

On the eve of the talks, the US State Department showed a UN panel what it said was evidence that Iraq had taken trucks intended for humanitarian use and converted them for the military.

Iraqi women denounce the UN sanctions
Iraqis claim their children are dying because of UN sanctions
US President George W Bush put Iraq at the heart of his "axis of evil" in January, and administration officials have been threatening to expand his war on terrorism to take in Saddam Hussein's regime.

Annan's peace overtures

Some officials say the tough stance has brought Iraq back to the UN table. That suggestion has been rejected by Baghdad.

But Mr Annan has made it clear that he wants to discuss the resumption of inspections to ensure Iraq is not developing illegal chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

He was joined during the talks by Hans Blix, the leader of the UN's Iraqi inspection commission, who faced Iraqi leaders for the first time since he took over the job two years ago.

Some diplomats said the most that can be hoped from talks is that Mr Sabri will say Iraq is willing to implement parts of UN resolutions on banned weapons and agree to discuss the details at a later date.

US opposes talks

UN sanctions imposed on Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990 can only be lifted when the weapons inspectors return, UN resolutions state.

The inspectors left Iraq in mid-December 1998, on the eve of a US-British bombing raid, and have not been allowed to return.

The Bush administration - which wants to topple President Saddam Hussein - is opposed to the talks with the UN, but Iraq has strong backing from other Arab countries.

The last talks were held on 27 February 2001, when the Iraqis annoyed Mr Annan by reading him lengthy statements rather than engaging in dialogue.

The BBC's Greg Barrow
"Both sides have much to discuss"
Sir Jeremy Greenstock, British ambassador to UN
"The Iraqis will have some quite searching questions to answer"
See also:

06 Mar 02 | Middle East
US accuses Iraq of arms violations
07 Mar 02 | Middle East
Iraq faces tough talks at UN
01 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Britain backs US over Iraq
25 Feb 02 | Middle East
Annan to tackle Iraq over arms
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