Iraq Halts All Work by U.N. Inspectors
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 1, 1998; Page A1
Iraq halted all cooperation with United Nations weapons inspectors yesterday, the bluntest yet in a series of maneuvers by President Saddam Hussein to ease the impact of trade and military restrictions placed on his country after the Persian Gulf War. The U.N. Security Council condemned the move and demanded that Iraq rescind the decision "immediately and unconditionally."
The 15-member council, meeting in emergency session in New York, denounced the Iraqi move as "a flagrant violation" of council resolutions and the memorandum of understanding signed last February by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, which reaffirmed the United Nations' right to conduct inspections inside Iraq.
The council also demanded that Iraq rescind its Aug. 5 order barring U.N. inspectors from carrying out field inspections.
While the language of the statement expressing the "unanimous view" of the council members was especially tough, it was not specific about what steps they might take if Iraq continues its defiance. Inevitably, there were questions about the possible use of force against Iraq, but the council, faced with a sudden and unexpected action, did not have instructions from its member governments and was not in a position to make immediate policy decisions.
The abrupt resolution by Iraqi officials again raised the prospect of military action against Iraq to force it to comply with the conditions of the treaty that ended the Gulf War.
On earlier occasions of Iraqi defiance, Saddam Hussein's government was forced to back down when the United States threatened air and missile strikes against Iraqi targets. However, after Iraq began the current confrontation on Aug. 5, the United States refrained from such threats. After initially insisting U.S. policy had not changed, the Clinton administration had acknowledged it was holding back any new threat of force for lack of support from other countries.
Now, if Iraq does not blink in the face of the council's latest demands, the administration almost certainly will come under pressure to reconsider whether a new threat of U.S. force is required. It will be several days before the administration's thinking becomes clear, and U.N. diplomatic sources said last night they doubted that President Clinton would make such a controversial decision before Tuesday's U.S. elections.
Clinton was briefed twice on the matter yesterday by National Security Adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Gen. H. Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, canceled their visit to Asia and headed back to Washington last night, the Pentagon said. "It's important that I get back," the Associated Press quoted Cohen as saying at a refueling stop on Wake Island.
In protest of a U.N. decision Friday to retain indefinitely stiff economic sanctions against the country, Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council voted to halt all activities of the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM), demanded that it be reorganized to diminish U.S. influence and "spying," and also requested that Richard Butler, chairman of the Special Commission, be fired.
Until then, the commission, already sidelined in much of its work by Iraq's August decision not to allow new weapons site inspections, will now also have to stop the monitoring program inspectors say is needed to ensure Iraq does not rebuild its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons capabilities.
"Until the U.N. looks at the issue in an honest and positive way ... and until the U.N. takes firm measures by firing the president of the Special Commission, Butler, and the reconstruction of the Special Commission to make it a neutral and professional and international organization distant from spying," the Special Commission team will not be allowed to operate in Iraq, the Iraqi statement said.
Earlier in the day, the U.N. panel's deputy chief, Charles Duelfer, sent a letter to the Security Council on behalf of Butler, who was in California. Duelfer said the Iraqis had informed Special Commission personnel in Baghdad that they would be allowed to remain in the country for now but must cease all activities, including long-term monitoring of weapons sites. International Atomic Energy Agency personnel would be permitted to continue their monitoring work, the Iraqis said.
In advance of the Security Council meeting, officials rebuffed Iraq's demand for a quicker lifting of economic sanctions. On Friday, the council offered no clear timetable for the lifting of the trade embargo, ruling instead that the sanctions would be discussed only after Iraq complied with all of the disarmament and other demands of the Gulf War treaty.
A British Foreign Office official told the Associated Press that Baghdad's action was "totally unacceptable," while a Foreign Ministry official for France, one of the countries that has been pushing for a more lenient Security Council attitude toward the sanctions, said the country "deeply regrets" Iraq's escalation of the standoff.
"Iraq's effort to thwart UNSCOM and undermine its independence is a very serious matter," said National Security Council spokesman David Leavy. "We welcome the statements by France and Britain which make clear that Iraq's position is totally unacceptable. Iraq's action cannot be tolerated. We are reviewing all options."
Iraq has been under crippling economic sanctions since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, and under the terms of the 1991 cease-fire ending the Gulf War, the sanctions cannot be lifted until the Security Council determines that Iraq no longer has any weapons of mass destruction.
The council has assigned the task of locating and destroying the prohibited weapons to the Special Commission, which tracks Iraq's missiles and chemical and biological warfare efforts, and to the atomic energy agency, which has responsibility for Iraqi nuclear programs.
The suspension of the U.N. panel's work is the latest in a series of efforts by Saddam Hussein to win concessions from the United Nations by impeding the commission's work. Earlier this year, he refused to allow U.S. inspectors to operate as part of the Special Commission and denied investigators access to several presidential palaces. That led the United States to move troops to the region. But during that crisis the United Nations increased the amount of oil the country could sell for food, and, as cooperation with inspectors resumed, discussions produced an apparent timetable for reviewing Iraq's overall progress toward meeting world disarmament demands.
Goshko reported from the United Nations, Schneider from Damascus, Syria. Staff writers John F. Harris and Dana Priest in Washington contributed to this report.
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