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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 18:50 GMT 19:50 UK
Iraq postpones UN talks
UN Weapons inspectors leave Baghdad
UN weapons inspectors left Baghdad in 1998
Iraq has postponed talks with the UN scheduled for next week which aimed to break the deadlock over weapons inspection.

The meeting between United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri had been cancelled at Baghdad's request, Mr Annan's spokesman said on Friday.

He said the Iraqis had stated that they did not want anything to distract attention from the current crisis in the Palestinian territories.

The two men were expected to discuss renewed demands that Iraq allow weapons inspectors back into the country.

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein cut oil exports this week
UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said the two parties were trying to agree a new date for the negotiations - the second such talks this year - which were originally scheduled for 18-19 March.

Talks held on 7 March were the first high-level discussions in a year and covered the logistics of the UN's proposed inspections regime.

Inspectors monitoring Iraq for suspected weapons of mass destruction left Iraq just before the US and Britain launched airstrikes in December 1998.

They have not been allowed back into the country since.

Arab support

Iraq has recently been strengthening ties with other Arab nations in the face of widespread speculation about US plans to attack the country.

The Bush administration has branded Iraq part of an "axis of evil" and declared its intention to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Smoke over Bethlehem
West Bank violence has triggered protests across the Arab world
Meanwhile, the Iraqi president has become increasingly outspoken about Israel's current occupation of Palestinian-administered towns in the West Bank.

He halted oil exports earlier this week in protest at the offensive - helping push prices to a six-month high, and has offered cash bounties to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

Correspondents say he appears to be trying to gain support from the wider Arab world, where frustration at the Palestinians' plight has boiled over into widespread street demonstrations.

Iraq also pledged at an Arab League summit last month not to repeat its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

In response, the assembled Arab leaders urged an end to UN sanctions against Baghdad and rejected any new military campaign against Saddam Hussein's regime.

See also:

08 Apr 02 | Media reports
Saddam announces oil stoppage: Text
08 Apr 02 | Business
Opec warns of oil crisis
08 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair bids to calm Iraq fears
02 Apr 02 | Business
Oil surges on Iraqi supply threat
28 Mar 02 | Middle East
Iraq pledges to respect Kuwait
05 Apr 02 | Business
Analysis: Another oil embargo?
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