Iraq's Hussein offers to open his palaces for arms inspection U.N. teams excluded from invitation

November 27, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

UNITED NATIONS -- In an effort to head off further trouble over arms inspections, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein yesterday invited foreign experts -- but not United Nations inspectors -- to come and live in his presidential palaces for up to a month to expose as "lies" U.S. accusations that there are weapons hidden in any of them.

A U.N. official immediately dismissed the invitation as "not very serious."

John Weston, the British representative at the United Nations, responded to the invitation succinctly.

"We're not interested in political tourism," he said.

Another European diplomat described the Iraqi action as "a total stunt," adding, "The Iraqis don't seem to have got the message."

The decision to open the palaces to foreign guests was made at a meeting yesterday of the Revolution Command Council, led by Hussein.

A report from the official Iraqi News Agency announced the move as "our response to the lies and fabrications issued by U.S. officials," adding that it was also a slap at "the spies of America."

U.S. officials, demanding that Iraq stop hiding weapons of mass destruction, have focused in recent days on the dozens of

palaces, most of them actually huge installations with enough space for weapons production or storage.

These areas, which Baghdad has placed off limits, are controlled by Hussein's security and intelligence services.

Yesterday in Washington, the commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf made the threat explicit. The commander, Gen. Anthony Zinni of the U.S. Marines, said that if he were ordered to attack, Hussein's personal security forces would be among the first targets.

The Iraqi invitation to visit the palaces was deliberately not offered to the U.N. Special Commission, known as UNSCOM, which has been overseeing the disarmament of Iraq since the end of the 1991 war in the Persian Gulf.

The invitation was, however, made to the countries represented on its 21-member board.

Iraq, with Russian help, has been trying to override commission executive chairman Richard Butler, an Australian arms control expert, by appealing to the board to step in and speed up progress on ending sanctions.

"We have decided to extend an invitation to two representatives from all the countries represented at the U.N. Special Commission and five others from each of the permanent members of the Security Council," the Iraqi announcement said.

Bill Richardson, the U.S. representative, said Washington was studying the proposal, "but we are very skeptical."

"It strikes me as a public relations move aimed at dividing the United Nations again," he said in an interview yesterday.

"Iraq should give full access to all sites to U.N. inspectors, not a selected group of diplomats and other individuals."

The Special Commission, which was expected to conclude its work in a matter of months in 1991, was initially composed of technical experts who would make inspections themselves.

But as the months and then years dragged on, the commission became an oversight board, meeting twice a year, and the day-to-day work was done by full-time inspectors lent to the United Nations by a dozen or more nations.

The "inspection by invitation" ploy is one Iraq has used before, with some variations.

In 1992, when Hussein's government barred inspectors from Ministry of Agriculture buildings, creating a standoff that lasted several weeks, commission inspectors were finally invited in for a quick tour that proved very little. The invitation followed threats of U.S. military strikes.

Inspectors did, however, photograph marks on walls that seemed to indicate files or machinery had been moved away.

Yesterday, 13 teams of investigators visited 19 sites in Iraq, the largest number of inspections since the work resumed.

In New York, UNICEF, the United Nations children's fund, issued a report that painted a dire picture of the condition of many Iraqi children. The report, based on statistics collected by Iraqis, said 32 percent of children under the age of 5 are malnourished, an increase of 72 percent since 1991.

The situation is not improving as a result of a plan that allows Iraq to sell $2 billion in oil every six months to buy needed civilian items, UNICEF said. That plan will be reviewed by the Security Council next week.

Americans and other diplomats have generally agreed that the plan might be expanded to ensure that more food and medicines can be bought. U.N. officials have suggested doubling oil sales to $4 billion.

Iraq, however, appears to be reverting to an earlier policy of rejecting the limited oil sales and pressing for a full lifting of sanctions instead.

That cannot happen until the Special Commission can report to the Security Council that Iraq is free of all nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and production lines to make them, as well as all long-range missiles.

Yesterday, Zinni gave the most detailed description to date of planning for a confrontation. If called to battle with Hussein, Zinni said, he would "attack the things that mean the most to Saddam." He included the 26,000-strong Republican Guard and other elite military units that keep the Iraqi president in power.

Pub Date: 11/27/97

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