End of Iraqi crisis creates no inroads for cooperation Future confrontations likely because issues were left unresolved

November 21, 1997|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The way in which the latest crisis with Iraq ended all but ensures that further confrontations will arise between the United States and Saddam Hussein.

Iraq allowed the United Nations inspectors, including Americans, to return in full force. But Baghdad failed to commit itself explicitly to any closer cooperation with the inspectors, who are trying to find and destroy Baghdad's dangerous weapons programs.

As a result, the inspectors' frustrating 6 1/2 -year search could continue indefinitely -- until they can be sure that Iraq is no longer trying to hide any biological, chemical or other weapons.

Meanwhile, Iraq's supporters, led by Russia, can be expected to exert their influence in the U.N. Security Council to halt the inspections early so that the U.N. sanctions on Iraq can be eased or lifted.

In fact, Iraqi officials say it was Moscow's assurance of pressure to get the sanctions lifted that persuaded Hussein to back down and allow the inspectors back in.

"This is not over," warned Samuel R. Berger, President Clinton's national security adviser.

Underscoring Washington's still-heightened suspicions about Iraq's intentions, the Pentagon announced the dispatch of another 32 warplanes to the Persian Gulf region, including F-15 and F-16 fighters, B-1 bombers, refueling plans and soldiers to operate Patriot air-defense missiles.

"Nobody is complacent," said British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook. "This is an issue which is going to be with us for a long time to come."

Trouble with the Iraqis could develop again almost as soon as the inspectors resume work.

If the inspectors pick up where they left off in late October, they will be seeking to enter some of Iraq's most closely guarded sites to try to uncover how the Iraqis have been concealing their weapons programs.

The issue of concealment lies at the heart of the challenge facing inspectors.

In the past, inspectors who tried to enter these sites have been blocked about 80 percent of the time, according to the U.N. Special Commission, the agency created after the Persian Gulf war to enforce U.N. resolutions requiring Iraq to dismantle its dangerous weapons program.

Targets pinpointed

Inspectors have focused on Hussein's intelligence agency, the Mukhabarat; his domestic security arm, the Special Security Organization; and the elite Special Republican Guard military unit.

The inspectors have been particularly frustrated in their efforts to track stockpiles of anthrax and botulinus toxin, the biological agents that Iraq may have put into missile warheads.

Until 1995, Iraq did not even acknowledge that it had a biological weapons program. Since then, information has emerged bit by bit.

Iraq has previously lied about its capacity to produce VX gas, which is 10 times more deadly that the sarin released by terrorists into the Tokyo subway system in 1995. Inspectors now know that Baghdad is able to store VX.

Questions also persist about whether Iraq is altering its permissible short-range missiles so they can be used offensively against its neighbors, notably Israel, and about who supplied its nuclear-weapons program.

Richard Butler, who heads the U.N. commission, would not speculate on whether Iraq has rebuilt any of its dangerous

weapons capacity during the period since Hussein evicted American inspectors and Butler called off the entire search program.

But he noted that every day that the inspectors are absent, their database degrades further. And Iraq, Butler warned, could quickly restart certain dangerous programs.

For example, he said, a legal pesticide plant could be converted to chemical-weapons production; a short-range missile can easily gain added range.

Missed opportunity

Some skeptics argue that the United States should have used the crisis to heighten pressure on Iraq, diplomatically or even militarily, to cooperate with the inspections.

"The status quo ante isn't good enough," said David Kay, who headed an early weapons inspection team in Iraq.

"[Hussein] has given up $100 billion in oil revenues over seven years" by refusing to cooperate enough to get the sanctions lifted, Kay said. "Do you really believe he is going to change his behavior now?"

Rather than increasing pressure on Iraq, the Security Council is expected to hear Russia and perhaps France repeat demands that Baghdad be shown "a light at the end of the tunnel" for an end to sanctions.

"We do expect that Russia will become the articulator of Iraqi concerns," a State Department official said yesterday.

The Russian effort may begin today, when the full U.N. commission holds its semiannual meeting, drawing commissioners from around the world. Some U.N. diplomats expect a Russian push to have the commissioners assert a stronger role at the expense of Butler, the commission's New York-based executive chairman.

'No deals'

But U.S. officials insist the United States is not a party to any deals forged between Russia and Iraq and would agree to no conditions before the inspections resume in full force.

"There's no deal," Berger told reporters. "There's no concessions."

Butler insisted that Iraq has a simple way to end the inspections and get sanctions lifted: It can make a full disclosure and stop blocking the inspections.

This, however, doesn't seem likely any time soon.

"The fact is they've always been harassed, obstructed, lied -- it's always been a difficult process. I'm not aware of a new commitment to improved cooperation with [the U.N. commission]," the State Department official said.

"However, if Iraq hopes to get sanctions lifted, they will have to improve their performance."

Pub Date: 11/21/97

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