The Security Council said on Wednesday that the meeting will be held on Monday at the UN headquarters in New York, where Annan will also hold talks with the delegation of Iraqi leaders and allies of the occupation in Iraq.

The announcement came just a day after Annan took his first tentative step towards returning UN staff to Iraq with plans to send a four-man team to Baghdad to assess security in the next two weeks.

"We will have a discussion on the future of Iraq and the present situation," said Heraldo Munoz of Chile, the current Security Council president.

US Ambassador John Negroponte, whose nation has been pressing Annan to resume UN operations after he withdrew his staff three months ago over security concerns, welcomed the developments.

UN re-engagement?

He said the US-led occupation would help the UN scouting team, adding Monday's meeting with the Governing Council, led by current president Adnan Pachachi, was a "step forward" in getting the world body back to Iraq.

US ambassador John Negroponte
says meeting is a 'step forward' 

"It's a sign that the United Nations is taking a hard look at some of the practicalities of re-engaging in Iraq," said Negroponte. 

Annan pulled non-Iraqi UN staff out of the country after a series of deadly attacks, including a truck bombing that killed his top envoy and 21 others at the UN's Baghdad headquarters.

But when and how the United Nations might return - and what it will do when it gets there - has been the subject of intense political negotiation ahead of the planned end of the US-led occupation in June.

Annan says he wants the Governing Council and occupation allies to clearly specify what the UN would be expected to do and what kinds of security arrangements could be made.

No early elections

Washington said on Tuesday it was discussing changes to its planned handover, but US officials ruled out a call by Iraq's top Shia leader, Grand Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani, for nationwide direct elections.

Annan is said to have indicated that a credible and representative election cannot be organised and carried out by June. It is unclear if the world body could take a major role in the period until then, anyway.

Iraq's interim foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari, at a Security Council meeting attended by Annan last month, accused the UN of having "failed" Iraq by not dealing with deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein sooner, and called for a rapid return of the world body.

Negroponte said that Annan and the Iraqi delegation would brief the 15-nation Security Council, which was bitterly divided over the war, on their views of the situation on the ground in Iraq at the meeting.