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– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
Iraq Meets With UN Secretary-General

At the request of the Iraqi government, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan met with Iraqi Vice President Ezzat Ibrahim on the sidelines of a November 13 conference in Qatar. Although Annan would not reveal the details of his discussions, he described the meeting as "frank and useful" and confirmed that discussions included "ways and means to break the current deadlock." Baghdad has refused to allow UN-mandated weapons inspectors into the country since the December 1998 U.S.-British airstrikes against Iraq and remains subject to stringent sanctions put in place after the Persian Gulf War.

Ibrahim's meeting with Annan, however, comes as the sanctions regime appears to be weakening. Over the past few months, Iraq has tested the limits of the postwar settlement by resuming foreign airline passenger service to Baghdad and domestic commercial flights through the so-called no-fly-zones. It has also re-established diplomatic relations with several countries, most notably with Egypt on November 7.

Annan has little latitude to negotiate with Iraq, as he is limited to serving as an intermediary between the UN Security Council and Baghdad. Only the Security Council can reach an agreement with Iraq altering Resolution 1284, which lays out the terms for easing sanctions on Iraq. Annan called the current situation "unhealthy" but said he confidently believed that Iraq and the UN would "find ways of discussing things."

Though some observers have warned that Iraq is "breaking out of the box," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said November 6 that the "basic sanctions regime" remains in place and continues to work. "The only way to get any kind of serious suspension of sanctions is to go through Resolution 1284…. That continues to work and continues to have the support of the international community," Boucher remarked. At a November 22 briefing, he added, "We are not interested in negotiating 1284."