Inspector Quits U.N. Team, Says Council Bowing To Defiant Iraq
By Barton Gellman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 27 1998; Page A01
Accusing the United States and United Nations of surrendering to Iraqi defiance, a leader of the U.N. special disarmament panel resigned his post yesterday and said the Security Council appears to want only "the illusion of arms control."
Scott Ritter joined the U.N. Special Commission shortly after its creation in 1991 and became chief inspector on the team whose job is to penetrate Iraqi concealment efforts. His abrupt resignation followed the Security Council's failure to deliver on threats of "severest consequences for Iraq" should the Baghdad government block inspections for forbidden arms. The council has described Iraq's Aug. 3 decision to halt new inspections as "unacceptable," but with U.S. assent it has made clear in recent days that it contemplates no new efforts at enforcement.
The resignation was the strongest sign among several in recent days that the disarmament panel -- imposed on Iraq as a cease-fire condition after the 1991 Persian Gulf War -- is close to collapse as an effective force for discovering and destroying illegal Iraqi weapons. The withdrawal of U.S. military threats to enforce access for inspectors has deprived the commission of its principal counterweight against seven years of periodic Iraqi defiance and a long political campaign by Iraq's sympathizers in the Security Council.
"The issue of immediate, unrestricted access is, in my opinion, the cornerstone of any viable inspection regime, and as such is an issue worth fighting for," Ritter wrote in a resignation letter delivered yesterday afternoon to Richard Butler, the Australian diplomat who heads the U.N. Special Commission, or UNSCOM. "Unfortunately, others do not share this opinion, including the Security Council and the United States."
Refusal to enforce the council's many binding demands for Iraqi compliance, he wrote, "constitutes a surrender to the Iraqi leadership" and "makes a mockery of the mission the staff of the Special Commission have been charged with implementing."
The departure of Ritter, a 37-year-old Gulf War veteran, deprives the commission of its crucial liaison to U.S. and foreign intelligence services. The commission has relied on him for investigative leads, and he was widely described as UNSCOM's most effective planner of military-style missions to seize forbidden weapons and documents before the Baghdad government could move them.
"Although obviously we believe that what's going on is sound policy, I want to make clear that we think Scott Ritter has done a terrific job under difficult and even dangerous circumstances," deputy national security adviser James Steinberg said in an interview. "He has been an important member of the team, and we're sorry he is leaving UNSCOM."
Ritter was criticized by U.N. officials for his zeal in pursuing evidence relating to the Iraqi weapons programs. This week, three senior associates of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed qualms about his boss, Butler, who has sometimes clashed with Annan, and made it clear in interviews that Annan would not grieve to see Butler go.
"The secretary general wants something that works, so if Butler's style becomes an issue with the Iraqis maybe he should resign because the issue should be the principles, not his personality," said a senior U.N. official.
In an interview yesterday morning, before Ritter's resignation, Butler said he would leave his post if UNSCOM and its mission lose the support of the Security Council.
"If it becomes clear to me there isn't a will to do this job at all, to see this through at all, I will not preside over an empty shell," Butler said, adding that he is not ready to draw that conclusion. "This job is a job rooted in disarmament. That's something I've spent a quarter of a century working on as a practitioner, as an academic, as a researcher. It is very clear that there is still some serious disarmament to be done in Iraq."
Over the years, Iraq has mounted bitter public attacks on a succession of individual inspectors as they obtained evidence of the Baghdad government's dissembling about its programs to build ballistic missiles and nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. The first such target was David Kay, the former chief nuclear inspector, and there were similar propaganda campaigns against team leaders Richard Spertzel, Diane Seaman, Hamish Killip, Rod Godfrey and Nikita Smidovitch.
Ritter came in for perhaps the most sustained Iraqi attack. A Marine reserve major, he served on the U.S. Central Command's intelligence staff during the Gulf War and as an arms control monitor for the Pentagon's On Site Inspection Agency in the former Soviet Union.
Associates said Ritter's reasons for discontent included an FBI probe into his exchange of sensitive information about Iraq with foreign governments. They said his information-trading was specifically authorized by Butler and his predecessor, Rolf Ekeus. Because Ritter did not maintain his U.S. security clearances after leaving the Marines, they said, the U.S. government acknowledged that the information it provided him at the commission was declassified. Despite promises from government contacts, and interventions on his behalf, the FBI has declined to close the investigation, these associates said.
Ritter declined in an interview to discuss the investigation, emphasizing policy differences with Washington in his decision to resign.
"I fought in the war," he said. "Americans died in the war. I was told by my government in April 1991, in a U.N. Security Council resolution the United States sponsored, that Iraq was going to disarm. . . . I've poured my heart and soul into disarming Iraq and this means I was wasting my time. It means we lost the Gulf War. That's why I care. . . . The whole world should be shamed by this."
Ritter said he had no plans save "to go out drinking with my unit" one more time. "This is about friendship," he said. "They've done impossible things. They're heroes here. If they were in the military . . . they'd be getting medals for some of the things they've done."
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