Report: Little Progress in Weapons Probe
By John M. Goshko
UNITED NATIONS, April 17 The chief U.N. weapons inspector said today that a recent four-month confrontation with Iraq caused the United Nations to make "virtually no progress" over the last six months in determining whether the Iraqis have done away with prohibited weapons programs.
The U.N.'s failure to obtain information was due to Iraq's refusal last year and early this year to permit inspection of presidential buildings and its insistence that non-American inspectors make up a larger percentage of U.N. teams, said Richard Butler. He heads the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) charged with determining whether Iraq has complied with Security Council orders to destroy its weapons of mass destruction.
President Saddam Hussein's government decided last month to permit inspection of the previously off-limits presidential buildings, easing the crisis at least for the time being. But Butler, in the latest of his biannual reports to the council made public today, complained that the delay still means inspectors were kept from their work for a long period of time between November and March.
"A major consequence of the four-month crisis authored by Iraq has been that virtually no progress in verifying disarmament has been able to be reported," Butler said. "If that is what Iraq intended by the crisis, then, in large measure, it could be said to have been successful."
The report's criticism of Iraqi compliance was some of the harshest since UNSCOM was created by the Security Council following Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
The council has said it will lift stringent economic sanctions imposed on Iraq because of the war only after UNSCOM certifies Baghdad has eliminated banned weapons and the capacity to produce new ones. Diplomats noted a wide gap between the report's implication that such certification is nowhere in sight and Iraq's increasingly insistent demands that the sanctions be ended.
Iraqi newspapers reported today, for instance, that Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf will come to the United Nations later this month to reiterate Baghdad's view that it is time for UNSCOM to wind up its work and leave Iraq.
UNSCOM's efforts during the past six months ran into heavy resistance starting in November, when Iraq sought to expel all Americans working for the commission inside Iraq and then barred searches at eight presidential palaces and their subsidiary buildings. UNSCOM was seeking to determine if evidence about prohibited weapons activity had been kept at these sites.
The stand-off led the United States to threaten air and missile strikes against Iraq. A conflict was averted when U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan went to Baghdad and negotiated with Saddam Hussein an agreement for UNSCOM inspectors to enter the palace sites accompanied by diplomats.
The inspections began between March 26 and April 3, and a U.N. report prepared earlier this week said they had not uncovered any illegal activity. However, in an annex to that report, Butler's deputy, Charles Duelfer, said these searches were intended to be only the beginning of a process and noted that Iraqi officials hinted they might oppose further inspections of the sites.
In discussing the amount of time consumed by disputes over access in recent weeks, Butler noted, "There was a significant trend toward substituting consideration of issues of process for consideration of issues related to the destruction, removal or rendering harmless of Iraq's prohibited weapons and systems."
He concluded: "Iraq's claim, uttered repeatedly and sometimes stridently during the period under review to the effect that it is now absolutely free of any prohibited weapons and the equipment used to make them is a claim which most would prefer to be true but which has not been able to be verified. The commission's mandate does not permit it to accept disarmament by declaration alone."
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press