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Iraq Special Report

  NEWS ANALYSIS
Annan's Accord Is Spare on Details

By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 25, 1998; Page A22

Senior officials of the Clinton administration were uneasy last week when United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan decided to become personally involved in the crisis over Iraq's obstruction of U.N. inspections. Would he wind up negotiating away key prerogatives of the existing inspectors, who work for the Special Commission on Iraq?

Since Annan returned from Baghdad on Monday with an agreement creating a new inspection system, the administration has taken pains to avoid being seen as a skunk at the garden party by criticizing a deal that staved off military strikes. But officials have said they still have key concerns about what the accord means and how it might affect future inspections.

Their concerns center on a provision in Annan's agreement with Iraq that establishes a new organization to conduct inspections of particularly sensitive sites, a responsibility held by the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq since 1991. If this new group conducts robust inspections and gains satisfactory access to these sites, then U.S. officials say they are willing to support its new authority, and their concerns about Annan's involvement will dissipate.

But other officials say they remain concerned that the new group may wind up being less aggressive than the existing one, or more subject to political pressure from Iraq and its supporters. In that case, they said, Annan's deal will have seriously undermined the U.N.'s task of ridding Iraq of any remaining weapons of mass destruction, including ballistic missiles, poison gases and germ weapons.

Some of the tensions between the U.N. and the administration were manifested yesterday in a quiet but vigorous discussion about how rapidly a team of U.N. inspectors should be dispatched to test Iraq's reaffirmation that it will accept wide-ranging inspections of suspicious sites. Washington and several of its allies were pressing for a sensitive inspection to begin within a matter of days, according to two officials, while Annan was urging that remaining inspection issues be clarified and worked out before another inspection occurs.

In addition to the uncertainties about how inspections will be conducted by the new group, the number of sites subject to its jurisdiction remains unclear -- with estimates ranging from slightly over 1,000 buildings to around 1,500. Nor has Annan specified whether and how the new group will be connected to the existing commission, which Washington has generally supported but Iraq has bitterly criticized.

U.S. officials said it is now clear that Annan's deal does not comply with at least one of the guidelines he was given by the five permanent members of the Security Council before setting out for Baghdad. That guideline specified that the new inspection group should have jurisdiction only over presidential residences in Iraq, not surrounding buildings. The idea was to avoid usurping too much inspection authority from the existing commission.

But Annan told the Security Council yesterday that he did not follow this guideline because a special U.N. survey had revealed that Iraq really only has a single presidential residence, located in Baghdad, and that Iraq considers many other sites and buildings associated with guest houses elsewhere in the country just as sensitive.

Several sources also said that Annan's deal violated a second guideline he was given by the Security Council's permanent members: that the special group should be clearly under the operational control of the existing inspection commission and its chairman, the outspoken Australian diplomat Richard Butler. Instead, the deal handed the authority to pick the membership and chairman of the new inspection group to Annan. It also made the new group responsible for writing its own reports, which would then be passed along to the Security Council by Butler.

Some U.S. officials and supporters of the existing commission said they were worried about this arrangement because of Annan's open sympathy for some of Iraq's criticisms of the commission's past activities.

In his remarks yesterday to the Security Council, for example, Annan astonished several listeners by describing inspectors for the existing commission as "cowboys" who had thrown their weight around and behaved irresponsibly. Annan passed along without comment an Iraqi complaint -- denied by the commission as a paranoid delusion -- that some of the most aggressive U.N. inspectors were seeking to hunt down Iraqi President Saddam Hussein so he could be assassinated, according to officials privy to his comments.

If Annan is so skeptical about the merits of past inspections, several officials speculated yesterday, he is unlikely to appoint an aggressive inspector as the head of the new group. And the significance of his selection becomes all that much greater if the number of buildings subject to the inspections is large and the procedures for conducting those inspections are weak.

"This is," said one diplomat, "the beginning of the unraveling of the inspection process."

That view was challenged, however, by several other officials, who said they hope the rules for new inspections can still be written to allow an even tougher approach than the commission has taken in the past.

Whether Annan will support that remains to be seen. At another point during the closed Security Council meeting yesterday, Annan said he returned from Iraq convinced that the existing commission is in need of political supervision, according to four sources. He said he planned to appoint a special representative for Iraq who will advise him on U.N. policy toward that country. He indicated that his appointee may be someone who in the past has expressed concern about the effects of sanctions on Iraq's people, an Algerian diplomat named Lakhdar Brahimi.

"There are ambiguities. . . . The proof will come in the course of time," said one senior U.S. official, who sought to play down the importance of the text of the deal. "This isn't about a piece of paper. You have to watch and wait" to see what happens during the inspections. Another official said "what we are looking for is how he implements this agreement."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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