U.S. says Iraq plays 'shell game' U.N. deadline passes for nuclear disclosure

July 26, 1991|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- As the United Nations deadline for Iraq to disclose all its nuclear secrets passed yesterday, the Bush administration continued to accuse Saddam Hussein of playing "a shell game" but gave no hint of executing the allied threat to bomb suspected sites.

Thousands of Iraqis fled to Jordan out of fear of renewed bombardment, but officials here played down the deadline as "a marker" for Iraqi political compliance rather than a "D-day" for military action.

At the same time, the Bush administration demanded that Iraq disclose all its "substantial" financial and gold holdings to enable the U.N. Security Council to judge how much oil it would need to sell to feed and care for its hard-pressed civilians. The Security Council discussed the relief issue yesterday but reached no decision.

U.S. officials declined to commit the administration to backing limited Iraqi oil sales before learning how much President Hussein can already afford toward emergency food, medicine and other supplies, as well as toward war-damage reparations and the cost of U.N. operations in Iraq.

The administration is also seeking guarantees that any oil sales and distribution of relief supplies be closely monitored by the United Nations.

The option of renewed military action against residual Iraqi nuclear capabilities was deliberately left open by the administration yesterday, but all the signs were that such action was not on the immediate agenda. U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar said publicly that he did not think that the allies would attack Iraq again.

Britain and France have joined the United States in threatening to bomb Iraq's remaining nuclear facilities unless Mr. Hussein gives a full account of his country's weapons of mass destruction and cooperates in their destruction.

In Vienna, Austria, the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose specialists have accompanied U.N. inspectors to Iraq, said it was not satisfied yet that Iraq had made the total disclosure of its nuclear weapons demanded under the terms of the Persian Gulf war cease-fire.

A new delegation of U.N. and IAEA nuclear inspectors is due to arrive in Iraq tomorrow to examine previously unchecked technical sites and to double-check information given by the Baghdad regime. Later missions will investigate Iraq's missile, chemical and biological arsenals.

At the White House, spokesman Roman Popadiuk said the access given to the team arriving tomorrow would enable the administration "to judge quite adequately Saddam Hussein's intentions."

Mr. Popadiuk said it had become obvious over the past two or three weeks that the Iraqis were "playing a shell game with their [nuclear] equipment."

He noted that the Iraqis had denied U.N. inspectors access to facilities and had even fired warning shots over their heads.

Iraq's release of lists of equipment failed to satisfy the disclosure requirements, which included inspection rights, he said.

Describing yesterday's deadline as "a marker" rather than a "D-day," Mr. Popadiuk said it provided a measure of Mr. Hussein's good faith in meeting the U.N. cease-fire requirement.

"Unfortunately, it appears he has not met that requirement . . . and I don't think it comes as a major surprise . . . given his past record of trying to forestall compliance, of trying to divert attention from the real issue," he said.

President Bush, he recalled, had made it "quite clear that we will make sure that Iraq complies with all the relevant U.N. resolutions." He and other officials refused to speculate on the likelihood of military action.

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