Lott Criticizes Iraq Deal as 'Appeasement'
By John M. Goshko and Helen Dewar
While "all Americans are pleased when military force can be avoided," the United States "cannot afford peace at any price," Lott told the Senate. "It is always possible to get a deal if you give enough away. . . . After years of denying that Saddam Hussein had any right to determine the scope of inspections or the makeup of inspection teams, this agreement codifies his ability to do both."
The agreement negotiated by Annan in Baghdad over the weekend was meant to resolve Iraq's objections to inspection of eight large complexes known as "presidential sites" by the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) charged with eliminating Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. The accord calls for inspections at these sites to be conducted by a new Special Group composed of UNSCOM personnel and senior diplomats. Critics of the agreement fear that the new entity might be susceptible to pressures from countries sympathetic to Iraq.
Lott's remarks were the strongest criticism of the deal thus far by a Republican congressional leader. The Clinton administration has cautiously supported the deal, which has been hailed by governments around the world for averting, at least temporarily, a U.S. military strike against Iraq. Lott and other conservatives have said President Clinton was wrong to entrust American foreign policy interests to the United Nations and allow Annan to dictate the pace and nature of how the United States deals with Iraq.
"The secretary general is calling the shots," Lott said. "The United States is not."
Officials said the criticism would not deter the Clinton administration from accepting the agreement as a new basis for searching out Iraq's prohibited weapons programs, while defering further talk of military action until there is a clearer picture of whether Iraq will abide by its provisions.
In the meantime, the United States plans to maintain its strong military presence in the region. Providing the first official public estimate of the cost of the gulf buildup, Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre said the United States has spent more than $600 million since last autumn in excess of what it had budgeted for normal operations in the Middle East.
Although administration officials are concerned about still unclarified ambiguities in the agreement negoti ated by Annan, they say privately that the strong international endorsement of Annan's efforts leaves Clinton little choice except to allow the accord to be tested.
Diplomatic sources said that Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Annan spoke by telephone twice yesterday in an effort to clear up some of these ambiguities and allow the administration to argue that the agreement provides a continuing major role for UNSCOM.
As the result of these talks, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin announced that the United States has assurances that the team leaders of any inspections carried out by the new Special Group will be UNSCOM inspectors. Annan earlier had promised the United States that the commissioner chosen to lead the Special Group also would come from UNSCOM. Similar assurances were given by Annan yesterday to Richard Butler, the UNSCOM chairman.
Testifying before a House subcommittee yesterday, Albright said: "In the days ahead, we will be working with the Security Council and UNSCOM to ensure that the agreement is implemented in a manner that reflects the core principles on which we have insisted. . . . With our support, UNSCOM will be testing Iraq's commitments thoroughly and comprehensively."
But the administration is on notice that if it wants to maintain bipartisan support for its Iraq policy in the Republican-controlled Congress, it has very little room for flexibility in responding to any Iraqi deviations.
While not specifically calling on Clinton to repudiate the agreement, Lott noted that "it is not too late to reject a deal if it leaves Saddam Hussein rejoicing and leaves UNSCOM out in the cold."
Lott reserved his strongest criticism for Annan, who on Tuesday was accused by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) of making concessions to Saddam Hussein reminiscent of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's capitulation to Adolf Hitler at Munich in 1938.
Annan is scheduled to come to Washington next week as part of a previously arranged effort to improve the strained relations between the United Nations and Capitol Hill conservatives and win their support for payment of U.S. dues arrearages to the world body.
Lott described as "outrageous" comments by Annan that appeared to portray Saddam Hussein as a leader seriously concerned about the welfare of his people and remarks by the secretary general indicating that he sympathizes with Iraqi complaints that some UNSCOM inspectors have behaved like "cowboys."
"Such comments reflect someone bent on appeasement, not someone determined to make the United Nations inspection regime work effectively," Lott said. And, apparently referring to a news account that erroneously quoted Annan as saying he "trusts" Saddam Hussein, Lott added: "The secretary general thinks he can trust the man who has invaded his neighbors, who has used chemical weapons 10 times and who has tried to assassinate former President George Bush. I cannot understand why the Clinton administration would place trust in someone devoted to building a relationship with a mass murderer."
At the United Nations, Steffan Di Mistura, a U.N. official who last week headed a mission seeking to determine the size and scope of the eight presidential sites suspected of harboring illegal weapons activity, said his team estimated that they collectively contain about 1,058 structures. Earlier UNSCOM estimates had put the number at about 1,500.
Staff writer R. Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company