The United Nations chose 20 diplomats Thursday to accompany weapons inspectors to sensitive sites in Iraq, fulfilling a key provision of a U.N.-brokered agreement that averted a U.S. military strike.
On the team are representatives from all but three of the 15 nations on the Security Council, including officials from all five permanent members. The group was ordered to travel to Bahrain this weekend.
Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka, appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to organize the group, gave no indication when the inspections will begin.
The group will accompany U.N. weapons inspectors to eight Iraqi "presidential sites." The action, included in a memorandum of understanding Annan worked out with Iraq on Feb. 22, was agreed upon in response to Iraq's demand that the inspectors show respect for "national dignity and sovereignty."
The diplomats won't be trained and will merely ensure that the procedures that Iraq agreed upon are implemented in good faith, Dhanapala said.
"We won't be millstones around anybody's neck," he said.
Dhanapala told a news conference that the timing of the visits will be at the discretion of the U.N. Special Commission in charge of the inspections and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The diplomatic group is to submit its own report on the visits, but it will be forwarded to Annan via chief arms inspector Richard Butler, who will be able to comment on it "if he sees fit," Dhanapala said.