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A Regime Not to Be Believed : U.N. is right to consider unprecedented action against Iraq

Three months ago Iraq assured a special U.N. commission charged with investigating its unconventional warfare capabilities that it had no biological weapons. Now Saddam Hussein’s regime has acknowledged that, well, yes, as a matter of fact it did once upon a time have a laboratory devoted to developing germ warfare agents. But that project was shut down last fall, Baghdad now claims, out of concern that the site might be attacked by allied forces that had assembled to overturn Iraq’s aggression against Kuwait. A release of biological agents because of an air strike could have had horrendous consequences for the immediate environment.

THE ADMISSION: Iraq’s belated admission comes as no surprise to U.S. officials. Intelligence information about Iraq’s biological warfare program was considered so solid last year that all American and allied troops in the Persian Gulf war zone were inoculated against anthrax and other organisms associated with germ warfare. Are Iraq’s assurances that it has gone out of the biological weapons business now to be believed? Of course not. Iraq’s long and unblemished record of dishonesty and deceit requires that all of its promises, guarantees or assurances be regarded as not just suspect but worthless, until proved otherwise. The best way--the only way--to keep Iraq honest and to guard against its developing nuclear, chemical or biological weapons is unrestricted, on-the-ground inspection of the kind the U.N. Special Commission is now carrying out.

This monitoring may soon become institutionalized. The U.N. Security Council is considering proposals forwarded to it by Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar to bring possibly the whole of Iraq’s arms acquisition and development programs under unprecedented open-ended international scrutiny. This would not be a continuation of the existing embargo on weapons transfers to Iraq but rather a new effort to prevent Iraq from acquiring those weapons and delivery systems that the Security Council says it must not have.

Under the plan devised by the International Atomic Energy Agency and teams of U.N. specialists, Iraq would be forbidden to acquire or develop facilities or components associated with nuclear arms. Strict standards for its biological laboratories would similarly aim at preventing the clandestine creation of agents that could be used as anti-personnel weapons. Entire categories of materials that Iraq might buy on world markets would be tightly monitored.

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THE REACTION: At the heart of the proposals is the demand for unimpeded inspection and verification. Officials would have the right to carry out aerial or on-the-ground inspection at will, looking not only at suspect facilities but also at all materials arriving in or leaving Iraq. Baghdad would be required to provide comprehensive information about a variety of programs that might have weapons value. The aim of all this is to prevent Iraq from acquiring weapons it could use to intimidate, threaten or attack other countries. And if it refuses to cooperate? The threat of military action against its terror warfare facilities--a threat once again endorsed by the U.S. Senate, on a 97-2 vote--remains very much alive.

Adoption of these ideas in anything like their proposed tough form would break new ground for the United Nations, whose members have always been sensitive to actions that might infringe on national sovereignty. Is such rigorous oversight of Iraq’s arms programs needed? It is, beyond any doubt. What the Security Council is preparing to say, in so many words, is that Saddam Hussein’s outlaw regime is incapable of being trusted and so must be kept under close and constant surveillance. This would be one of the boldest actions the United Nations has taken. It could also be one of the more effective.


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