Iraq has told members of the U.N. Security Council that it will not accept Rolf Ekeus, the former head of U.N. disarmament efforts in Iraq and now Swedish ambassador to Washington, as the chairman of a new arms inspection agency, diplomats said today.
The move by Iraq could complicate the vexing task of selecting a chairman for the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, which the council voted last month to establish. But a senior U.S. official said that Iraq's views are irrelevant and that Washington would never favor a chairman who met with Baghdad's approval.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan floated the possible candidacy of Ekeus on Tuesday. Annan is scheduled to nominate a chairman for the Security Council's approval by Sunday.
During his years as executive chairman of the former weapons agency, the U.N. Special Commission or UNSCOM, Ekeus oversaw the destruction of Iraqi facilities and equipment suspected of involvement in developing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. He maintained cordial relations with the Security Council, but his relations with the Iraqi leadership were chilly. "The nicest thing I can remember the Iraqis saying about him was 'the damned Ekeus,' " said one U.N official. "That was his name in Iraq for most of his stay."
UNSCOM's relations with Baghdad deteriorated even further under his successor, Richard Butler of Australia, and U.N. weapons inspectors have been barred from Iraq since they were evacuated in December 1998, on the eve of a U.S. and British air strike.
China's deputy representative at the United Nations, Shen Guofang, said today Iraqi officials have told his government that they object to Ekeus's candidacy. Guofang added that China is trying to persuade Baghdad to cooperate with U.N. inspections.
The Iraqi government, meanwhile, told the International Atomic Energy Agency that it could send a team to Iraq next week to inspect the country's stores of low-grade uranium. A spokesman for the Vienna-based agency, David Kyd, said that none of the nearly 2 tons of uranium stored in sealed drums at the Tuwaitha facility in Iraq is weapons-grade.
CAPTION: Former UNSCOM chief Rolf Ekeus has been mentioned as chairman for new weapons monitoring panel.