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  Iraq Inspections, Embargo in Danger at U.N. Council

By Barton Gellman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 22, 1998; Page A25

After bombarding Iraq for four nights in the name of United Nations arms inspectors, the Clinton administration began fighting a rear guard battle at the world body yesterday to save the inspectors from diplomatic extinction.

Three of five permanent members of the Security Council Russia, France and China have now called for swiftly lifting the eight-year oil embargo against Iraq, recasting or disbanding the U.N. Special Commission and firing its executive chairman, Richard Butler. At the commission, known as UNSCOM, a strong sense of the end of an era prevailed.

"Nobody tells us anything," said one UNSCOM official. "They are deciding our future, whoever 'they' all are, and nobody tells us anything."

Undersecretary of State Thomas J. Pickering flew to New York to admonish Secretary General Kofi Annan, who has formed a task force on Iraq, against adopting any proposal for UNSCOM's replacement. Pickering, according to accounts from Washington and New York, said the United States can be "flexible" about details but will not compromise on the oil embargo or on UNSCOM's preeminent role in assessing Iraqi disarmament.

"Pickering wished to leave no doubt as to what the position of the United States is," said a State Department official. "He stated the strong U.S. view that there can be no sanctions relief absent a certification of Iraqi disarmament [of forbidden weapons] and that UNSCOM is the vehicle for making that assessment."

Vowing that "we will not accept a watered-down UNSCOM," the official replied in the affirmative when asked if Washington would use its Security Council veto to stave off opposing views.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Sunday that Moscow will insist on Butler's dismissal, and his U.N. Ambassador, Sergey Lavrov, is circulating a proposal to convene the 22 political commissioners who supervise UNSCOM for a meeting to reconsider its mission. In France, Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine told Radio France Internationale yesterday that it is time for "a new chapter in the U.N.'s management of the Iraqi issue."

Vedrine, amplifying on Sunday's call by President Jacques Chirac for "a new method" of monitoring Iraqi weapons, said UNSCOM has "probably done all we can" to discover Iraq's hidden stocks of chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles.

"We think it's time to move on to a mechanism more geared to the risk of future danger, rather than the systematic examination of what has happened in the past," Vedrine said. "This accurate and continuous monitoring should allow us to reconsider the question of lifting the embargo."

The arms inspectors who normally reside in Baghdad remained in limbo in the Bahrain hotel to which they fled in the hours before Operation Desert Fox began on Wednesday. Responsible for keeping surveillance on sites capable of regenerating forbidden weapons, the monitors await instructions on whether they might return.

On Saturday, just before the United States and Britain ended the military campaign, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan announced that Baghdad would no longer work with UNSCOM, declaring "its mission is over."

"We retain a core in Bahrain who could go back, on the order of 60 or so," said Ewen Buchanan, UNSCOM's spokesman. "Some of them are U.N. staffers but the majority are on loan from governments. They come to us from somewhere else, and after a while the somewhere else will start to ask for them back."

Annan's task force is trying to position the secretary general for a brokering role in the Security Council battle just beginning. According to officials with first-hand knowledge, it is contemplating a proposal to spin off UNSCOM's responsibilities to existing and traditionally less aggressive institutions. One variant would place the so-called "nuclear file" exclusively in the hands of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, and send the chemical and biological weapons tasks to the Organization for Prevention of Chemical Warfare in the Hague, and the missile inspections to the office of U.N. Undersecretary Jayantha Dhanapala.

One of Annan's advisers described the goal as formulating an "UNSCOM Lite," and added that "it would not be as effective as UNSCOM in principle could be because of the experience, because of the high level of intelligence it received but on the other hand it might be able to operate, whereas UNSCOM now cannot."

Another adviser, bristling at that description, said "it's not UNSCOM Lite, it is a successor organization to UNSCOM that works. I can assure you that the secretary general's action group is not suggesting UNSCOM Lite."

Butler, in a Sunday interview with CNN, appeared to acknowledge that his organization is fighting for its life. All Security Council members, he said, accept the principle that Iraq must comply with the binding disarmament resolutions that ended the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

"Now what instrument will be used in the future to supervise this, to inspect, to monitor the future to see that they don't make these weapons again, is something that the council must judge," he said. "The present instrument is UNSCOM."

Asked whether he might resign, Butler said he is "not planning to do that," then added: "Look, if it were the case that what stood between Iraq being disarmed or not was my resignation, I've spent 25 years of my life in disarmament, of course I would walk."

Associates said Butler, accused by Iraqis of working to advance a U.S. agenda hostile to Baghdad, expects never to return to Baghdad and is giving active consideration to his future.

The Clinton administration, far from repeating earlier demands that Iraq permit UNSCOM to return, seems reconciled to regarding the ouster of the arms inspectors as an indefinite obstacle to lifting the oil embargo on Iraq.

"We would welcome UNSCOM's return to Iraq, but we want to see affirmative, concrete demonstration from Saddam Hussein that he's prepared to cooperate fully with UNSCOM," State Department spokesman James Foley said yesterday. "Now, of course, we're seeing the opposite."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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