U.S. Rejects Iraqi Plan for Weapons Inspections
By Edward Walsh
The proposal, worked out with Russian mediators seeking to avert U.S. military action against Iraq, was described yesterday by the Iraqi deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, as a possible solution to the inspections stalemate that has led to the threat of U.S. attacks. But it was immediately shot down in Washington by President Clinton and his spokesmen, leaving the issue unresolved and the threat of military action unabated.
President Saddam Hussein "must let the [U.N.] weapons inspectors back with full and free access to all suspect sites," Clinton said during a ceremony at the State Department. "If he will not act, we must be prepared to do so."
The Aziz proposal would transfer authority to conduct weapons inspections from the regular U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) inspection teams to special teams under the direction of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and the Security Council. It would also limit the number of sites to be inspected to eight and the duration of inspections to 60 days -- all conditions that U.S. officials said are unacceptable.
"It's not up to Iraq to set the conditions for those inspections," White House press secretary Michael McCurry said. "It's up to the United Nations to do the work as the United Nations see it."
The State Department spokesman, James P. Rubin, called the Iraqi proposal a "procedural gimmick."
"This so-called proposal seeks to limit inspections to a one-time, finite duration exercise, and it does not commit Iraq to access over time, and continuous access, full access, for inspections or monitoring, as provided by U.N. Security Council resolutions," Rubin said. "If we were to allow UNSCOM to be adjusted procedurally in the way that Iraq suggests, we would be heading down a slippery slope to more obfuscation, more confusion, and more attempts by Iraq to prevent the international community from finding out what it has in this area."
In an interview with Cable News Network, Aziz said Iraq proposes special inspection teams under Security Council authority because it considers UNSCOM inspectors to be "the adversary" who "should not be the judge" of what constitutes adequate inspection.
"UNSCOM is nobody's adversary," Rubin retorted. "UNSCOM is the body charged by the international community with getting to the bottom of what Iraq has in the area of weapons of mass destruction."
The Aziz proposal was a variation of ideas that Russian mediators have been relaying from the Iraqis for about two weeks.
While U.S. officials forcefully rejected the proposal, some have privately suggested that the administration might consider a face-saving device for Iraq under which diplomats representing Security Council members would accompany the UNSCOM inspection teams to suspected weapons sites. But under this suggested resolution of the stalemate, UNSCOM would remain operationally in charge of the inspections, which would not be limited in location, timing or duration.
As attempts to find a diplomatic solution to the standoff continued, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, was scheduled to leave early today for China and Japan to brief officials there about the Iraqi situation. China and Japan are the only two U.N. Security Council members that have not been consulted directly by U.S. officials about the possibility of military action against Iraq.
Three more European countries, meanwhile, added their support for a military strike if diplomacy fails to end the standoff.
Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini said in Rome that Italy will make its bases available to U.S. planes if an attack takes place. Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, the Spanish leader, said his country also "will be with its partners and allies, which is where it belongs." And in Copenhagen, Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen offered Danish support.
In a rare gesture of support for Iraq, an aircraft carrying humanitarian supplies flew into Baghdad from Yerevan, the Armenian capital, after a lengthy delay to arrange approval from U.N. authorities. The delivery of supplies was arranged by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultranationalist Russian leader who flew in aboard the supply plane.
At the United Nations, Annan met with ambassadors of the five permanent Security Council members to discuss calls from various countries for him to go to Iraq and attempt to mediate. Afterward Annan said they agreed to continue talks later this week on ways to achieve "full compliance [with council resolutions] by the government of Iraq."
U.N. diplomatic sources said a trip by Annan is not imminent because no diplomatic proposal under consideration seems able to bridge the gap between Baghdad and Washington. Along with Britain and other allies, the United States is pressing for full Iraqi compliance with resolutions calling on Iraq to destroy specified weapons and permit unfettered inspections to verify the weapons are not retained or produced.
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