U.N., Iraq Agree to Another Round of Talks

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri ended a three-day meeting Friday with an agreement to hold another round of talks, which the United Nations hopes will lead to a return of U.N. weapons inspectors.

Getting inspectors back into Iraq after more than three years is a key demand of the U.N. Security Council and especially the United States, which has accused Iraq of trying to rebuild its banned weapons programs and of supporting terrorism. President Bush has made clear the United States wants Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein removed from power.

Sabri called the talks "useful" and said there would be another round of talks, though dates had to be worked out. Sabri last met Annan in March -- the first high-level talks in a year.

"We continued to debate in the same spirit of cooperation and positive spirit which characterized our meeting last time in March," Sabri told reporters at the end of the Friday meeting. "And hopefully we shall continue this in the next round."

Annan was to brief the Security Council on the outcome of the talks late Friday.

Sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait cannot be lifted until inspectors certify that Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons have been destroyed, along with missiles to deliver them.

But arms inspectors left Baghdad ahead of U.S. and British airstrikes in December 1998 and Iraq has barred them from returning. Iraq maintains it has fully complied with U.N. resolutions.

Annan and Sabri started the final session with a 10-minute one-on-one meeting -- their second tete-a-tete -- and were then joined by their delegations.

Sabri said the talks got off to a good start Wednesday but Iraq was still pushing a broad agenda including U.S. threats to topple Saddam -- not just the return of U.N. weapons inspectors.

Iraqi diplomats on Sabri's team said privately that they hope to reach a "comprehensive" agreement with the United Nations.

Annan went to Washington on Thursday for high-level talks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so the U.N.-Iraq talks that day were held at the expert level, focusing on issues related to disarmament and inspections.

The U.N. team was led by chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and the Iraqi team by Jafaar Dhia Jafaar and Gen. Amir Al-Saadi, both presidential advisers.

"This was the first time that the U.N. and Iraqi technical experts -- the first time in several years -- have been able to talk shop," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Friday. "I think both sides found it very useful."

Iraq accused the U.N. Special Commission, known as UNSCOM, which was created after the 1991 Gulf War to destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, of spying. It was replaced in December 1999 by a new inspection agency, the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, known as UNMOVIC, which is headed by Blix.

U.N. sources said the Iraqis wanted to ensure that UNMOVIC would not be another UNSCOM.