Iraq's cat and mouse game Weapons inspections: U.S. must show patience, firmness, purpose.

December 21, 1997

SHOWING REPORTERS facilities in Baghdad from which United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) weapons inspectors were excluded was one of Saddam Hussein's little jokes.

But it showed nothing, proved nothing, meant nothing.

Iraq's dictator is playing cat-and-mouse with the U.N. resolution that ended the gulf war in 1991. It imposed economic sanctions, to end when the inspection team certifies no weapons of mass destruction exist in the country.

The current chief inspector, Richard Butler of Australia, is patiently carrying out his task despite harassment and deception. The sanctions hurt the Iraqi people rather than their rulers, but Iraq can end them by letting Mr. Butler's team look everywhere it wants and satisfy itself the weapons don't exist.

Instead, Iraq drew up a list of 63 "presidential palaces" and barred inspections from there. Then it escorted foreign reporters to some as if to prove no funny business was going on.

One purpose of this game might be to hide poison gas and disease microbe manufacturing and storage. Mr. Butler said yesterday that evidence exists of Iraq doing just that.

But another purpose would be to divide the U.S. from other countries, hoping to isolate Washington and not Baghdad. Public cries by frustrated American politicians to bump off the Iraqi demon only help him muster international sympathy that ignores the weapons issue.

Iraq's ally in all this is the Russian foreign minister, Yevgeny M. Primakov, an old Communist spymaster and Middle East expert, who is using the tension to regain world influence for Moscow. He defused the last crisis with a promise to try to help end sanctions. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is trying to use him to talk Saddam Hussein into compliance even as the latter uses him to dilute the U.N.'s resolve.

France and Russia oppose United States military action. The U.S. is right to press for Security Council resolve to stay the course of weapons inspections. It deserves the support of Russia and France in this. Sanctions should be ended, but it is up to Saddam Hussein to comply with United Nations resolutions to make that happen.

Pub Date: 12/21/97

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