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Iraq Special Report

  U.S. Hampers U.N. Chief's Baghdad Plans

By John M. Goshko
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 17, 1998; Page A01

UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 16—Secretary General Kofi Annan announced tonight that he intends to go to Baghdad in search of a diplomatic solution to the crisis over Iraq, but he delayed making specific plans in the hopes of winning support for the mission from the United States.

At a meeting this evening, the United States blocked approval for Annan's trip from the permanent members of the Security Council. Without the backing of all five -- the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia -- Annan would not have the mandate to negotiate with the Iraqis or to make commitments on behalf of the world body. As a result, Annan said he would give the countries more time to reach an agreement about his role.

U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson, speaking with reporters after the meeting, insisted that any agreement would have to be based on the uncompromising terms advocated by the Clinton administration. Richardson said that a mission by Annan must make unmistakably clear to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that the United Nations can make no concessions on the issue of searching out and destroying prohibited Iraqi weapon programs. That position was repeated later tonight by Defense Secretary William S. Cohen in an interview on CNN's "Larry King Live."

Nevertheless, ambassadors of the four other countries said tonight they thought the discussions among the permanent members were going well and could lead to an accord about Annan's trip very quickly -- perhaps as soon as Tuesday.

"I will go to Baghdad once this series of consultations is concluded," Annan announced following the meeting. Asked if he would be deterred by continued disagreements among the five, Annan replied: "I don't think any of us involved in this exercise is prepared to contemplate [that] scenario. . . . There is always tomorrow."

Meanwhile, the U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf region continued. Concerned about its ability to protect Kuwait from Iraqi retaliation after any U.S. airstrike, the Pentagon announced Monday night that it would send up to 6,000 additional Army troops to the gulf state as a deterrent.

The number is double what Gen. Anthony Zinni, the top commander of U.S. forces in the gulf, said he needed as recently as last week to shore up defenses in Kuwait. Explaining the increase, a senior defense official said that Zinni had reexamined the defense plan and had concluded that more troops were warranted.

Behind the discussions at the United Nations is the 2 1/2-month standoff caused by Iraq's obstruction of inspections by the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) charged with eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The Iraqis have insisted that UNSCOM's efforts to enter certain sites that Baghdad has designated as "presidential palaces" infringe on Iraq's sovereignty and national security.

Russia, France and China, advocates of a flexible approach to Iraq, have insisted that any solution must be peaceful, and their efforts in recent days have centered on a proposed compromise that diplomats here refer to variously as "UNSCOM plus," "UNSCOM with suits" and "UNSCOM light."

The proposal, which these countries want Annan to convey to Baghdad, calls for diplomats from the permanent five countries to escort UNSCOM inspectors in any searches of the disputed sites. That theoretically would satisfy Iraq's demand for participation by countries friendly to it rather than leave the inspections solely to UNSCOM, which Baghdad charges is a tool of the United States.

Under such a plan, the inspections would include diplomats from the French, Russian and Chinese missions in Baghdad, while the United States and Britain, which have had no representation there since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, would have to send in diplomats from outside Iraq.

U.S. officials have indicated that Washington probably would agree to this plan as a face-saving device for Saddam Hussein provided Iraq understands and accepts that UNSCOM remains the operational "core" of such inspections, that the diplomats are to be there only as observers and that full inspections must be allowed without Iraq imposing any time limits or putting some locations off-limits.

Although Richardson did not allude specifically to the "UNSCOM light" plan, he indirectly reiterated this U.S. position tonight.

"We are not interested in any compromises," he said. "Any kind of solution has to be centered around the principle of full and free access by UNSCOM and maintaining the full integrity of UNSCOM."

Britain, which has been closely allied with the U.S. position, reportedly has advocated dressing up the plan in hopes of making it more palatable to the Iraqis. But tonight, with Richardson at his side, the British ambassador, Sir John Weston, said the United States and his government are in full agreement.

Of the new troops destined for the gulf, about half the contingent consists of infantry soldiers who, when joined with the 1,500 ground troops already in Kuwait, will constitute a full armored brigade. The rest includes 24 Apache attack helicopters and 12 OH-58 observation helicopters to give the Army force longer legs, plus a mechanized infantry task force and an artillery element armed with advanced multiple rocket launchers. All the troops will be drawn from the Third Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga.

Staff writer Bradley Graham contributed to this report from Washington.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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