Iraq to Stop Cooperating With U.N.
By John M. Goshko
The Iraqi leader's order, if actually carried out, would mean that the approximately 120 U.N. inspectors who rotate in and out of Iraq no longer could conduct searches inside Iraq to determine if it still has prohibited weapons. Saddam Hussein acted on the eve of a council meeting here Thursday that will hear a report from the chief U.N. weapons inspector, Richard Butler, about Iraq's latest demand that the sanctions be lifted immediately.
Senior officials of the United Nations and the United States, Iraq's most implacable foe on the council, were not willing to say today in advance of the meeting that another crisis-level confrontation appears to be in the offing. The last standoff, early this year, led to a U.S. threat to launch massive air and missile strikes against Iraq before it was defused.
In Washington, P.J. Crowley, spokesman for the National Security Council, called the Iraqi move "a cat-and-mouse game" and turned aside talk of a possible American military response as premature. "We're not willing to play this game," he said.
"I don't think any of us should call this a crisis," said Butler, executive chairman of the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM), when he arrived here from Baghdad today. He noted that UNSCOM inspectors in Iraq "went about their normal business" Wednesday, adding, "I've told the inspectors to continue their normal work" Thursday.
After meeting this afternoon with Secretary General Kofi Annan, however, Butler said the two of them "certainly agree that there is a syndrome-like behavior here, going around the same track again and again. . . . We have to find a way to break that." Annan, who was scheduled to fly to Portugal tonight for a youth conference, postponed his departure for 24 hours in order to be present at Thursday's council meeting.
UNSCOM is charged with searching for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and ensuring that they are destroyed. But it is the Security Council that must decide when and if to lift the sanctions imposed on Baghdad after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
The latest confrontation began Monday when Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, during a meeting in Baghdad, rejected Butler's proposals for an accelerated inspection schedule and demanded that the sanctions be ended. That caused Butler to break off the meeting and return to New York.
Butler said Aziz had sent a 50-page letter to the United Nations, but said he could not comment on it because it was still being translated from Arabic. Butler also said he had a second letter from Baghdad that he described as "indicating a desire to restructure the way we do our work." He declined further comment, except to say, "We are studying that."
Saddam Hussein's order to stop cooperating with the United Nations came after Iraq's 250-member National Assembly voted unanimously for such action. An official Iraqi statement said that after a meeting with senior officials of his government, the Iraqi president decided to "completely suspend cooperation" with the U.N. Special Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency. UNSCOM's job is to search for prohibited missiles and chemical and biological weapons, while the Vienna-based IAEA has responsibility for monitoring Iraq's nuclear weapons programs.
There was no clear indication how the 15-nation council, which is deeply divided about whether to consider sanctions, would respond to the latest Iraqi move. The United States and Britain, which are among the five permanent members with the power to veto any decision, are vehemently opposed to any easing of the pressure on Baghdad. But a majority of the council -- including the other three permanent members, France, Russia and China -- is believed to have been advocating a more flexible approach.
The new Iraqi defiance put its sympathizers on the defensive. Yuri Fedatov, the deputy head of the Russian delegation here, said there "still is hope that a major crisis can be prevented," and charged that Butler had acted improperly by not consulting the council before breaking off the talks and leaving Baghdad.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company