Kofi Annan to Meet With Iraq's Foreign Minister

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will meet Iraq's foreign minister in April for two days of talks, hoping to focus on the return of arms inspectors to the Mideast nation, Annan's spokesman Fred Eckhard said Monday.

Eckhard said Annan and Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri will meet April 18 and 19 in New York, stressing that the secretary-general felt two days of talks might be warranted. This month, the two met for one day, March 7, in their first high-level talks in a year.

Annan is "hoping for substantive and focused discussions, specifically of the return of arms inspectors to Iraq," Eckhard said.

Baghdad is under sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, and they cannot be lifted until U.N. inspectors certify that Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons have been eliminated along with the long-range missiles to deliver them.

Iraq has refused to let inspectors back in, insisting it has complied with the resolutions and demanding that sanctions be lifted. The inspectors left Baghdad in December 1998 ahead of U.S. and British airstrikes.

Eckhard said that Iraq agreed Friday to the talks with Annan.

Annan, Eckhard said, has passed on to the Security Council 19 questions from Iraq that were given to him by the Iraqi foreign minister during the March 7 talks.

The United States has said it does not want the Security Council to consider the questions, including whether U.S. actions toward Saddam Hussein violate international law.

"The Iraqi questions given to Secretary-General Annan earlier this month are an attempt by the Iraqis to distract U.N. attention away from Iraq's noncompliance with ... Security Council resolutions and to portray Iraq as a victim," said Robert Wood, spokesman for the U.S. mission at the United Nations said on Thursday.