U.N. turns down Iraqi conditions for inspections Rejection of offer raises prospect of attack by allies

January 17, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The United Nations rejected last nigh Baghdad's latest attempt to set conditions for weapons inspections, raising the prospect of a punishing military strike against Iraq by the United States and its allies.

Iraq's offer would have required the inspectors to fly into Iraq from Jordan, rather than Bahrain, where they are headquartered, avoiding no-fly zones patrolled by allied aircraft in northern and southern Iraq.

Tim Trevan, spokesman for the commission conducting the U.N. inspections, said a flight by inspectors scheduled for today would not take place unless Iraq permitted entry from Bahrain. He said Iraq was required under terms of previous agreements to allow the inspectors to fly anywhere in Iraq and use any airfield in the country.

"The special commission cannot operate effectively" if it is forced to enter Iraq through Jordan, he said.

In a statement issued later last night, the White House said, "The United States remains determined to bring about Iraq's full compliance with resolutions of the United Nations Security Council as well as with the demands put forward by the coalition pursuant to those resolutions." The demands referred to include the ban on Iraqi flights in "no-fly zones" in northern and southern Iraq.

President Bush, while indicating earlier in the day that the latest Iraqi offer was getting careful consideration, said at the time, "We're not on the brink or moving back from anything."

Referring to his Friday ultimatum demanding U.N. access to Iraqi airspace, he said, "I wasn't trying to be belligerent; I'm just simply saying they're going to comply with these resolutions -- period."

As the tension mounted -- days before Mr. Bush is to turn over the presidency to Bill Clinton -- Iraq kept up a rhetorical barrage against the no-fly zones, saying its guns were continuing to fire on allied aircraft patrolling the zones.

Administration officials, at pains to show the conflict was not just between the United States and Iraq, had stressed that Rolf Ekeus, chief of the U.N. inspection effort, would have a strong say in deciding whether to accept the latest Iraqi position.

In setting out the Iraqi terms, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said Iraq was willing to cooperate with the United Nations but would continue its challenge to the no-fly zones, which he said were a creation of only the United States, Britain and France.

The allies maintain the zones were created to enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions.

A senior administration official said Mr. Aziz's statement, made at a Baghdad news conference, marked an effort "to wiggle out of a problem."

Meanwhile yesterday, U.N. spokesman Abdel-Latif Kabbaj said Iraq had not met a U.N. deadline to remove six police posts along the newly redrawn border with Kuwait, a problem a senior U.S. official described as "something that has to be watched."

As part of Iraq's cease-fire agreements with the United Nations, weapons inspectors are supposed to have the right to fly anywhere, any time.

Thus, the Iraqi proposal had posed a dilemma for the outgoing administration. Acceptance could be interpreted as allowing Iraq dictate the terms of the inspections, but it would enable the continuation of the inspections regime with the long-term goal of making Iraq incapable of using weapons of mass destruction against its neighbors.

The inspectors, who would be making their first return to Iraq since their Christmas break, had planned to resume destruction of Iraq's chemical weapons facilities and make inspections by helicopter.

Yesterday's developments followed Friday's near-confrontation in which Iraq, defying an ultimatum by Mr. Bush, warned that given the confrontation prevailing over Iraqi airspace, the weapons inspectors' aircraft could be shot down if it entered that airspace.

Bush administration officials said Friday that continued Iraqi defiance could bring a new, heavier air strike than Wednesday's limited mission to knock out Iraqi air defenses in the southern no-fly zone. Senior military officials interviewed Friday advocated hitting Iraq's second tier of aerial defenses south of Baghdad.

The prospect of immediate punishment was delayed Friday night after the U.N. special commission decided to submit a new request for flight clearance to Iraq to give it a chance to back down.

Speaking to reporters in Camp David, Md., about the Iraqi offer before it was rejected by the United Nations, Mr. Bush said, "We're interested in knowing what the United Nations' response is. We don't do these things unilaterally; we consult with the others."

At his news conference, Mr. Aziz said, "We made it clear, and I make it clear now, that we don't have any intention to challenge the United Nations, to violate or breach the Security Council resolutions. The main issue for Iraq now is challenging the illegal no-fly zone."

Meanwhile, a spokesman said the Pentagon had been unable to verify an Iraqi claim that an "enemy aircraft" had been fired on over the northern no-fly zone yesterday.

First the northern and later the southern no-fly zones were created to prevent Iraqi aerial bombardment of rebel Kurds in the north and rebel Shiite Muslims in the south.

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