Iraq Cancels Cooperation With Arms Inspections
In its boldest move yet to evade international disarmament efforts, Iraq announced Saturday that it was ending all cooperation with United Nations weapons inspectors.
The action by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein came a day after the U.N. Security Council agreed on the shape of a new review of Iraq’s progress in eliminating prohibited weapons. However, the council declined to pledge that the review would lead, as Baghdad desires, to the swift lifting of trade sanctions imposed after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Iraq halted most cooperation with weapons inspectors Aug. 5, but Saturday’s action ratchets up the confrontation by ending even the limited investigations it previously permitted.
Although details of Iraq’s intentions were not fully clear, it appears that the inspectors will essentially be confined to their quarters in Baghdad.
Iraq’s decision brought quick reaction at the United Nations, in Washington and in other capitals.
The Security Council quickly convened and unanimously condemned Iraq’s decision, terming it a “flagrant violation” of U.N. resolutions. It said Hussein’s government must resume “immediate, complete and unconditional cooperation” with the arms inspectors, and only then will the council begin reviewing Iraq’s compliance.
The council and the United States stopped short of threatening any specific retaliation. In the past, the U.S. and Britain have threatened military action to force compliance with inspections, but the use of force has received little support from other council members or Arab nations.
Security Council members called the restrictions on the inspectors “deeply disturbing” and pledged to continue efforts to resolve the latest in a series of crises over weapons destruction.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Henry H. Shelton, CIA Director George J. Tenet and other top officials met with National Security Advisor Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger at the White House.
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen canceled a weeklong Asian tour and was en route back to Washington to participate in discussions about the new standoff with Iraq.
“Iraq’s action is a direct defiance of the Security Council and the obligations it undertook at the end of the Gulf War,” White House spokesman Barry Toiv said.
White Houses Stresses Gravity of Situation
The Clinton administration stressed that Iraq’s effort to thwart the inspectors and undermine their independence “is a very serious matter.”
“Iraq’s actions cannot be tolerated,” Toiv said. “The president’s advisors are reviewing all options with him. All options remain on the table.”
In London, a British Foreign Office official said that any decision by Hussein’s government to stop all cooperation with the inspectors would be “totally unacceptable.”
The French Foreign Ministry announced that it “profoundly deplores” Iraq’s action and demanded that Baghdad resume cooperating in the effort to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction.
Under terms of the cease-fire that ended the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the U.N. weapons inspectors and the International Atomic Energy Agency must certify that Iraq has eliminated its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and long-range missiles before the Security Council can end the sanctions.
In a statement, Iraq said its refusal to cooperate with the inspectors will last “until the United Nations looks at the issue in an honest and positive way, leading to Iraq’s right to the lifting of the unjust sanctions.”
It demanded that the Security Council dismiss Richard Butler, the head of the U.N. commission overseeing the weapons inspections.
The government in Baghdad also said the Security Council should restructure the organization of the inspectors “in such a way as to make it a neutral and professional international body.”
The Hussein regime said it has complied with all council resolutions “although they were unjust.”
“But this bitter experience, which lasted eight years, has proved that America and its agents are controlling issues connected with this problem, moving it with a clear target that is harming Iraq and the Arab nations,” the statement charged.
Iraq has long alleged that Butler, an Australian, is working with the United States to prolong sanctions.
In its statement, the Security Council said it will remain actively apprised of Iraq’s lack of cooperation, and it praised the work of Butler and his colleagues in dealing with “difficult circumstances.”
Council members said they were seeking clarification of exactly what Iraq intended with its Saturday action, but Charles Duelfer, Butler’s top assistant, told the council in a letter that U.N. officials in Baghdad had been told they had to “suspend, stop or cease all activities.”
While video cameras and other sensors the inspectors use to monitor some Iraqi facilities will be permitted to remain in place, none of the U.N. personnel will be allowed to visit the camera sites. Thus, they apparently will not be able to investigate any suspicious activity by the Iraqis captured on video.
The U.N. maintains about 100 people in Baghdad, including disarmament experts, helicopter crews and support personnel. Other weapons inspectors are shuttled in and out of Baghdad as needed.
Iraq said that officials from the IAEA can continue to work under restricted circumstances. The atomic agency has already informed the council that it has detected no evidence of a continuing nuclear arms program in Iraq.
Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nizar Hamdoun, said inspectors would be physically barred if they attempted to get to any monitoring sites.
Asked whether the inspectors should be withdrawn from Iraq, he replied: “Well, I presume, because they have nothing more to do in the country both on the inspections front and also on the monitoring front.”
Iraq’s action came as the U.N. sought to negotiate a way to reverse the Aug. 5 decision, but the U.N. and the Hussein regime have been wrangling over terms of the inspections for a year now. Last winter, the United States and Britain, joined by a handful of other countries, moved a major strike force into the Persian Gulf and threatened to bomb Iraq unless Hussein permitted inspections of sites he had placed off limits to the U.N.
Fighting was averted in February when U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan traveled to Baghdad and secured agreement from Hussein to reopen those sites to inspectors. That agreement now lies shattered, and neither Annan, the Security Council nor the U.S. has been able to find a way to force the Iraqis back into line.
Neither U.S. Nor U.N. Threatens Airstrikes
The U.S. still keeps sizable forces in the Gulf, but the threat of airstrikes was not raised Saturday at the U.N. or in Washington.
“I would like to underscore the unanimous and very solid and very strong reaction of the council to this very dismaying Iraqi decision,” Peter Burleigh, the chief U.S. delegate, said after the Security Council meeting. “I think everyone on the council expressed their surprise and dismay and regret. The council will be demanding that Iraq reverse itself.”
Asked about possible airstrikes, Burleigh said: “For right now, we are going to take this on a step-by-step basis and assess what is going on on the ground.”
He said council members wanted to make sure the inspectors in Iraq were safe.
President Clinton did not attend the meeting at the White House of his top advisors but was briefed before departing for golf at the Army-Navy Country Club.
The president recently signed the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, supporting factions in that country seeking to overthrow Hussein.
As part of the legislation, the administration has begun collecting information relating to charges of genocide and war crimes by Iraq’s leadership.
Times staff writer David Willman in Washington contributed to this story.