IRAQ'S acceptance of long-term monitoring of its weapons program, announced here Monday after arduous negotiations with a top United Nations official, appears to set the tone for a less-conflictive phase in Baghdad's relations with the UN.
Though many difficult issues remain unresolved, Rolf Ekeus, head of the UN special commission overseeing Iraq's disarmament, said his five days of talks with Iraqi officials have averted the immediate threat of a military strike by Western forces and laid the groundwork for continued dialogue.
"This is the start to a process," Mr. Ekeus told reporters here before returning to New York yesterday. "Both sides agree we should nurture the process ... and not take risks to destroy it."
The breakthrough came late Sunday, Ekeus said, when Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said his government "is ready to comply with the plans of ongoing monitoring and verification" of its arms program. Over the past year of discussions with the UN, Iraq has consistently refused to accept Security Council Resolution 715, setting out the monitoring procedures. Baghdad's concession yesterday, Ekeus said, "is a very important statement. We have broken out of the vicious circle."
He was cautious, however, about the prospects for a lifting of international trade sanctions against Iraq, which is Baghdad's top priority.
"This is a very broad and complex issue," Ekeus said, and Iraq has still not complied with some of its requirements under Security Council Resolution 687, which calls for the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The UN is still waiting for "full disclosure of all its weapons and all its production facilities, and we are not satisfied as yet this is the case," he said.
Iraq has not provided a full list of the foreign suppliers who fed its arms program in the past. It also has not accepted a redrawn border with Kuwait or offered full reparations to the emirate for war damage. Sanctions will not be lifted until these conditions are met, Ekeus hinted.
But the envoy allayed Iraqi concerns that long-term monitoring could be an open-ended process, with no end to sanctions in sight. When long-term monitoring is "up and running, that will be enough for us," a senior UN source explains.
Ekeus would not give details of the agreement over the installation of cameras at two controversial missile-testing sites, the issue that triggered the latest crisis. But he said that a "satisfactory" interim arrangement has been reached.
Technical talks on long-term monitoring will start in New York in about six weeks, Ekeus said. In parallel, he plans to hold high-level political talks with Iraqi officials "to stimulate the technical talks so they don't bog down." Such political talks have long been a goal in Baghdad's search for at least a partial lifting of the sanctions that have put a stranglehold on its economy. The agreement reached yesterday could pave the way for the UN and Iraq to conclude a pact allowing a limited resumption o f oil production.
Ekeus warned that his inspection teams will continue their work "vigorously," but would be cautious in implementing Resolution 715.
Although the new accord does not forestall the possibility of future flare-ups, Iraq's acceptance of long-term monitoring marks progress. After five days of intensive talks, "we start to understand each other a little better," Ekeus said.