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  • JC Penney
    Newsweek.com Periscope
      Iraq Balks at U.N. Request
    for Arms Documents

    By John M. Goshko
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, November 21, 1998; Page A01

    UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 20—Less than a week after Iraq averted American airstrikes by promising to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspections, President Saddam Hussein's government today defied a request from the chief inspector for documents relating to its prohibited weapons programs.

    The request for material relating to Iraqi chemical, biological and other weapons programs had been made earlier this week by Richard Butler, executive chairman of the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) charged with overseeing elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. In reply, Riyadh al-Qaysi, undersecretary of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, called the requests "provocative rather than professional." He added that the documents sought by UNSCOM either do not exist or involved questions that Iraq already had answered.

    Last Saturday President Clinton halted a threatened air attack on Iraq within an hour of the ordered launch of missiles. On Sunday, following a tense weekend of exchanges between Baghdad and the U.N. Security Council, Clinton agreed to put off for the time being the use of force in exchange for Iraq's assurances that it would resume full cooperation with UNSCOM.

    But the president also warned that the threat of airstrikes could be revived if Iraq fails to comply fully with U.N. resolutions calling for its disarmament. In issuing that warning, Clinton specifically cited one of the documents that Iraq now is refusing to provide -- a record of chemical munitions that may be left over from Iraq's war with Iran in the 1980s -- as an example of the material that the United States believes Baghdad now is obliged to provide.

    Whether the defiant posture adopted by Iraq today will prove sufficient cause to provoke a new crisis and renewed American threats was not immediately clear tonight.

    "I think it's important we not overreact here on the first day," Clinton said at a news conference in Seoul. But he added that Iraq has never aggressively cooperated with UNSCOM despite its duty to do so.

    A senior Clinton administration official called the Iraqi response to Butler "clearly insufficient" and warned that Baghdad should respond quickly to UNSCOM's requests. U.S. officials said they were awaiting Butler's analysis of the situation before proceeding.

    Late today, Butler sent a detailed rebuttal of the Iraqi position to A. Peter Burleigh, acting U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and this month's president of the Security Council. Some senior U.N. officials said tonight they understood that Burleigh will go to Washington over the weekend to discuss next steps with administration policymakers.

    State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said, "We come at this problem of Iraqi compliance with a high degree of skepticism about their intentions."

    Butler began requesting the documents on Tuesday, the same day that his inspectors, who were pulled out of Iraq last week in anticipation of U.S. bombing, began returning to test Iraq's promises of cooperation. However, his requests, spelled out in three letters to the Iraqis, drew two letters of response from al-Qaysi that were defiant and scornful in tone.

    In addition to saying that the documents did not exist or involved questions already answered, al-Qaysi dismissed as unnecessary Butler's request to inspect archives in the Iraqi Defense Ministry and other government buildings on the grounds that UNSCOM already has made searches of these premises that "were intrusive, took long hours and were performed without hindrance. . . . "

    He also contended that the document detailing munitions expended in the Iran-Iraq war and discovered by UNSCOM during a search in July was out of the scope of UNSCOM's mandate. However, he added, the inspectors could look at "relevant portions" if they were supervised by Prakash Shah, Secretary General Kofi Annan's personal envoy in Baghdad. After Iraq refused to hand it over in July, the document has been kept under seal by the Iraqis.

    Finally, al-Qaysi offered a new Iraqi interpretation of the role of the comprehensive review that the Security Council has promised to conduct about its relations with Iraq if cooperation with UNSCOM resumed.

    In setting the guidelines for the review, the council refused Baghdad's demand that it should lead quickly to lifting the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War. The council has said the sanctions cannot be lifted until Iraq is disarmed, and it was the council's refusal to use the comprehensive review as the vehicle for making that determination that led Iraq on Oct. 31 to break off cooperation with UNSCOM.

    But in his reply to Butler, al-Qaysi referred several times to "the prevailing trend in the Security Council" and characterized it as meaning the council wants the review to determine what, if anything, remains to be done in terms of Iraqi disarmament and then will instruct UNSCOM about what follow-up it wants. To comply with UNSCOM's requests now, al-Qaysi said, would delay the comprehensive review unduly.

    "We hope that UNSCOM will discard this unprofessional approach which would unjustifiably lead to the prolongation of work, and thereby maintain the inequitable embargo on the people of Iraq," al-Qaysi wrote.

    In referring the matter to the Security Council, Butler said there was ample proof that the requested documents do exist and that UNSCOM's mandate from the council gives it authority to inspect them, stressing that UNSCOM cannot assess Iraqi programs if denied access to the material.

    Staff writer Walter Pincus in Washington contributed to this report.


    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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