U.N. Program to Disarm Iraq in Peril, Chief Says


The latest Iraqi resistance to U.N. weapons inspections threatens to sabotage the world body’s entire program for dismantling Baghdad’s weapons of mass destruction, disarmament chief Richard Butler said in a blunt report Friday to the Security Council.

Butler said if Iraq continues to deny inspectors unfettered access to sites, including presidential compounds, suspected of housing evidence of illegal weapons research or production, the U.N. may never uncover the full truth about Iraq’s capacity for chemical, biological or nuclear warfare.

Butler said his discussion earlier this week with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tarik Aziz in Baghdad “strongly suggests that Iraq is determined to withhold any further or new information from the [disarmament] commission and seek to prevent us from finding it ourselves.”


“I am bound to state that if Iraq successfully avoids answering the questions . . . and / or in other ways prevents us from finding those answers, it is gravely to be doubted that we would be able to verify Iraq’s claims that it has met its disarmament obligations,” he said.

His assessment may be crucial as Washington weighs whether to punish Iraq with a military attack. Opponents of an airstrike argue that as long as the inspection program is working at all, the U.S. should refrain from doing anything that would give Iraqi President Saddam Hussein an excuse to throw the inspectors out of the country.

In a closed-door session of the council on Friday, Butler was questioned closely by U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson about whether the inspectors were still able to do their jobs, according to two sources present. Butler answered that they still were able to conduct some work but were severely restricted, the sources said.

Butler was decidedly downbeat in his assessment of the meetings with Aziz.

Aziz refused to respond to the Security Council demand, relayed by Butler, that Iraq permit the inspectors to go wherever they want to complete their work. The Iraqi official also called for a three-month moratorium on attempted inspections of presidential compounds and other sensitive facilities.

Council members put off until next week any formal response to the latest Iraqi challenge. But they agreed that a moratorium on inspections is unacceptable and, according to participants in the meeting, remain united in their demand that Iraq be more cooperative with the inspectors.

There is still no consensus for military action.

Richardson accused Iraq of “defiance of the international community,” and added: “In the next few days, we will be consulting with our allies on the next steps. We want to resolve this issue diplomatically, but we are not ruling any option out.”


In Washington, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright declared that “the situation, as Chairman Butler described it, is unacceptable” and added that the United States is running out of patience.

“I don’t want to really put a time frame on it, but I do want to tell you that this is not going to be something that can last much longer,” she told a reporter who asked how long it might take before the U.S. makes its next diplomatic move.

John Weston, Britain’s ambassador to the U.N., called Iraq’s stonewalling a “direct challenge to the Security Council.”

The Russian and Chinese ambassadors, who are more sympathetic to Iraq, urged Baghdad to cooperate fully with the inspectors but coupled that with a veiled caution to the U.S. against the use of force.

The disarmament commission was created after the U.S.-led coalition thwarted the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In the cease-fire pact, Iraq was required to dispose of its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons capability and its long-range missiles. Until the commission certifies that has been done, the Security Council cannot lift the oil embargo that has crippled the economy.

Iraq contends that it has eliminated all its illegal weapons, an assertion repeated by Aziz in his meetings with Butler on Monday and Tuesday. But the commission replies that it cannot verify Iraq’s claims, without full cooperation from Baghdad.



Iraq also has repeatedly lied to the inspection teams, Butler said in his Friday report. He noted, for example, that from 1991 until 1995, Iraq denied having any VX nerve gas. After the inspectors found evidence to contradict that, Iraq admitted to production of 260 liters of VX. But the commission has concluded that at least 3.9 tons of the deadly agent have been produced.

In a related development, Richard Spertzel, a biological weapons expert for the commission, said the U.N. has uncovered “tantalizing information”--but no hard evidence--of a secret biological arms plant in Iraq. According to Reuters news service, Spertzel told a seminar at the Washington Institute, “We have good, tantalizing information but no concrete information . . . that we can take to the Security Council.”

When the council reconvenes next week, it is expected to consider a proposal to cancel a scheduled April review of the Iraq sanctions. Although there is no chance the sanctions would be lifted even if the review went forward, canceling the session would send a message to Iraq, diplomats here say.