UNITED NATIONS – Secretary-General Kofi Annan sought Iraq's acceptance Tuesday of a Security Council roadmap for the return of U.N. weapons inspectors, rejecting Baghdad's latest proposal for overcoming the impasse over Saddam Hussein's weapons program.
In his response to Iraq's invitation for chief weapons inspector Hans Blix to visit Baghdad, Annan said he looked forward to Iraq's agreement to the U.N.'s "sequence of steps" and a formal invitation to the U.N. inspection agency to resume work after nearly four years.
He expressed hope that "a speedy resumption of inspections" would help resolve all remaining issues about Iraq's weapons programs, which must be dismantled under Security Council resolutions.
The letter thanked Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri for inviting Blix for technical talks, but declared the Iraqi agenda at odds with Security Council requirements for the resumption of inspections which must take precedence.
In last week's invitation, Sabri said that Iraq wants Blix and its own experts to determine the outstanding issues regarding Iraq's banned weapons programs and figure out how to resolve them before inspectors return.
A 1999 Security Council resolution requires U.N. weapons inspectors to visit Iraq and then determine within 60 days what questions Iraq still must answer about its chemical, biological, nuclear and missile programs. The Security Council must approve the list of outstanding issues.
Annan cited those provisions in his letter, stressing that the council had clearly instructed the U.N. inspection agency to start its work by identifying the outstanding disarmament tasks that Iraq must fulfill.
He said Blix was ready to send the list of outstanding issues to the Iraqi government for comment before his report went to the Security Council.
"It should therefore be possible at that time for Iraq to express its views and to provide any additional information which may be relevant," Annan said.
Annan discussed the invitation to Blix with the 15-member council on Monday and spoke to the chief inspector, who is vacationing in Sweden, on Tuesday before sending the letter through Iraq's U.N. Mission.
"I have no problem with discussions at the technical level. But my concern is the agenda and how it proceeds," Annan said Tuesday. "I think the letter will clarify that we welcome the invitation, but that we would want to proceed along other lines."
"I hope once they've read the letter, they will find their way to become more forthcoming," the secretary-general said.
A Western diplomat called the letter "a certain defeat for the Iraqi movement to try to negotiate the return of inspectors into their country." The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity.
In his letter to Sabri, Annan said that during a third round of U.N.-Iraq talks in Vienna in early July, Blix suggested "that the most direct and appropriate way to resume the inspection process would be by holding talks at the expert level on practical arrangements for inspections."
Blix told Swedish Radio on Tuesday, "We want discussions with them (the Iraqis) about practical arrangements: How we fly in, what authorities we deal with there. We don't want conflict once we're in."
Blix said he found little new in the Iraqi letter, calling the language similar to ideas Iraq raised during the three rounds of U.N.-Iraq talks.
Iraq sent a follow-up note to council members Monday saying it did not want to discuss any new issues that inspectors might raise after returning to Iraq. However, it wanted to review with Blix the disarmament issues that were outstanding when inspectors left Dec. 15, 1998, ahead of U.S. and British air strikes punishing Iraq for not cooperating.
The Iraqis also were concerned about President Bush's call for Saddam 's ouster and the growing indications from in Congress that war with Iraq is likely. The United States accuses Iraq of trying to rebuild its banned weapons programs and of supporting terrorism, and has threatened unspecified consequences if inspectors are not allowed to return.
Under council resolutions, sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait cannot be lifted until U.N. inspectors certify that its weapons of mass destruction have been destroyed.