United Nations' latest demands may have triggered Iraq crisis, diplomats say CRISIS IN THE PERSIAN GULF

October 12, 1994|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's movement of troops toward Kuwait came after the head of the United Nations weapons inspection team surprised President Saddam Hussein with what he considered new demands before his country again would be allowed to sell oil.

Mr. Hussein had expected to hear a positive report last week from U.N. official Rolf Ekeus that would help lift the four-year embargo on Iraqi oil sales, according to sources here corroborated by Mr. Ekeus.

The meeting was "very gloomy and depressing," Mr. Ekeus told the Swedish newspaper Aftenbladet. "Saddam himself fled the meeting. . . . There was a very hard tone from Baghdad's side -- threatening."

A diplomat with knowledge of the Baghdad meeting said that the Iraqis were stunned that compliance seemed unlikely to lift the embargo on oil sales, the wrecked country's only significant source of revenue.

"It was a point of total desperation" for the Iraqis, the diplomat said. "From their position, it brought things back to square one. They were never going to get anywhere by complying with the U.N. stipulations."

Diplomatic observers could not say whether the movement of two Iraqi divisions toward the Kuwaiti border on Friday came as a direct result of the unsuccessful meeting.

But even those sympathetic to U.S. goals said that Iraq's exasperation was partly justified: It has met most of the United Nations' original demands, only to see more added on, they said.

And Mr. Ekeus said that he thought his confrontation was "a trigger to the crisis."

"I underlined that our report would be fundamentally a rather positive one. Obviously, that was not enough," Mr. Ekeus told reporters.

At the end of the Persian Gulf war, the United States demanded a way to ensure that Iraq destroyed its weapons of mass destruction and did not make more. Until that requirement was satisfied, the United Nations said, Iraq would not be allowed to sell oil on the world market.

U.N. inspectors took over the old Canal Hotel on the outskirts of Baghdad and began work in earnest last November after a two-year period of foot-dragging by the Iraqis.

Earlier this week, the logistics officer of the U.N. team was asked how close that system was to operation. He looked at laborers moving in desks for the monitoring personnel.

"About that close," said the officer, Jaakko Ylitalo.

The U.N. team has a dozen inspectors roaming Iraq in search of biological weapons. Three helicopter crews take up experts for aerial in spections. They have set up an array of cameras and air sampling sensors to ensure that Baghdad does not manufacture chemical weapons.

They have set up a permanent monitoring system for nuclear weapons and a rotating team to inspect missile sites, factories, and storage areas to ensure that Iraq has no ballistic capability.

Mr. Ekeus said yesterday at a news conference in New York that Iraq no longer has the capability to use weapons of mass destruction and that the monitoring system to ensure that is in place.

"We feel they have no such capability. We are confident Iraq is not capable of threatening Kuwait or elsewhere" with nuclear, chemical, biological or ballistic weapons, Mr. Ekeus said.

U.N. Security Council resolution No. 687, passed in April 1991 to enforce the gulf war cease-fire agreement, calls for a partial lifting of the embargo on Iraqi oil sales after the disarmament provisions are met.

In the nearly 3 1/2 years since that first resolution, the Security Council has passed nearly a dozen more resolutions on Iraq, some adding new demands on the country. They range from recognizing redrawn borders of Kuwait to ending oppression of the Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq and Kurds in northern Iraq.

Even as Iraq has belatedly met the disarmament provisions, the United States has argued that it must comply with new resolutions.

"It's enough. No country has been kept so long under sanctions," argued a European diplomat usually sympathetic to U.S. goals.

"It's lasted too long. They have met the requirements," said another diplomat in the region. All spoke on condition of anonymity.

Baghdad saw the position of Mr. Ekeus as a continuation of that policy of "moving the goal posts."

The meeting was "supposed to be the last round. It was supposed to cap all the progress," said a source familiar with the events. "But during the discussions, it turned out that, far from going forward, the progress was going in reverse."

Mr. Ekeus has called the arms monitoring a "provisional system" and has refused to set a deadline to end its testing. Iraq saw those changes as leaving the whole system open-ended, subject to change at the whim of the United Nations.

And Iraq concluded that Mr. Ekeus would not urge the Security Council to end the embargo.

Mr. Ekeus, who had been treated with restraint in the state-controlled Iraqi media, was criticized bitterly after the meeting.

"Ekeus used to say positive things in Baghdad, but once he was back in New York he would tell the U.N. council lies about Iraq's noncompliance," the Baghdad Observer wrote.

Iraqi officials threatened to end their cooperation with the United Nations.

And a few days after the meeting, two crack Republican Guard divisions headed toward Kuwait.

Mr. Ekeus said in New York that he believes the troop movements have ruined Iraq's opportunity to ease the embargo on oil sales.

"We had a very good chance to get a lifting or easing . . . in, say, six months' time," he said.

France, Russia, Brazil and China have argued that the Security Council should begin to ease the embargo and trade sanctions that have impoverished this once-rich country.

But U.S. officials argue that a "pattern of compliance" has not been shown by Iraq.

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