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Iraq Special Report

  Kofi Annan's Agreement

Tuesday, February 24, 1998; Page A20

BY ONE TEST -- averting American airstrikes -- the agreement negotiated by Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations is at least a temporary success. But by the test that counts most -- ending Saddam Hussein's special-weapons threat -- the agreement remains dubious and unproven, notwithstanding President Clinton's provisional acceptance of it yesterday.

Saddam Hussein evidently is promising to honor an arms-inspection agreement that he made in 1991 and toyed with and broke in 1997, and that he renewed last November and broke again in January. He is not offering to yield up suspect facilities and weapons but to let others try to penetrate the secrecy he has wrapped them in. It was always difficult to imagine he would yield up weapons he regards as his ultimate strategic card. The inspectors -- with or without the diplomatic escorts now to be furnished ostensibly to salve Iraqi pride -- can only open doors and files they think may be concealing something. Mr. Clinton reports that unspecified clarifications and details remain to be elaborated. This is urgent in order to allay suspicions of questionable concessions.

Mr. Clinton rightly claimed that his own military preparation enabled the U.N.'s diplomacy, backed by France and Russia, to work. But this gain comes at a cost. Saddam Hussein entered this crisis as an international villain isolated for invading Kuwait and making dirty bombs. He emerges as the much-courted intended target of an American air assault that never came off but that still leaves him playing David to the American Goliath. He need merely bide his time to test again the constancy of American deployments and American allies.

Saddam Hussein's disappearance from the scene is the one development that might promise relief. Yet there is little visible support for a large ground campaign to oust him, and President Clinton has rejected making the Iraqi leader's removal an explicit American aim. What the current crisis demonstrates is the limits of the past seven years' containment policy. A more active strategy, one based on American initiative, needs to be explored. This means first making the most of the inspections and staying able to respond to violations with the "serious" reprisals Mr. Clinton promised yesterday. It also means deterring Iraqi threats to other nations, pressing for Saddam Hussein's trial for his criminal acts and sustaining his political opponents where feasible. It means keeping sanctions on as long as any possibility lingers that Saddam Hussein may acquire weapons of mass destruction.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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