U.N. teams plan rapid-fire searches of Iraqi sites Checks are only start of reviews, inspector says

March 22, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

UNITED NATIONS -- As Iraq and the United Nations position themselves for a critical test of the agreement that averted a U.S. military attack in February, the head of the commission monitoring Iraq disarmament says he plans rapid-fire inspections of previously off-limits presidential properties to determine what buildings will get spot inspections later -- with much less notice.

"If any conception is held that this will be one-off, that is not correct," the commission head, Richard Butler, said in an interview.

The inspections, a result of the agreement reached between U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, are expected to begin by the end of this month.

Butler, who is to arrive in Baghdad today, was referring to speculation among diplomats that once U.N. inspectors have visited the eight presidential sites, accompanied at Iraq's insistence by diplomatic observers, Iraq will argue that this phase of the arms investigation is over and that the country can move closer to a lifting of economic sanctions.

To underline his point that this is only the beginning of this part of the process of ferreting out all prohibited weapons systems, Butler said he intended to put one of his highest-ranking inspectors in charge of the initial visits to the eight presidential sites. They are scattered across Iraq, from Mosul, in the north near Turkey, to Basra, on the Persian Gulf.

The inspections will take place against a background of Iraqi confidence that a new system outlined in the agreement with Annan will be the key to a quick ending of sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.

"But only if they keep their cool," a senior official said at the United Nations. Some officials say they believe that a new confrontation with Iraq is inevitable.

On their part, inspectors will eliminate a few irritants to the Iraqis. They will honor an Iraqi request not to display any national symbols, such as flag patches sewn on their clothes.

The inspectors will go armed with a new set of reports showing in detail how far the Iraqis are from accounting for biological and chemical weapons as well as missile warheads that could be used to deliver them.

The reports were requested in January by Iraq, which apparently thought that independent teams of experts not drawn from Butler's U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) would look more favorably on Iraq's assertions that it was no longer harboring weapons of mass destruction or the means and material to make them.

The teams studying chemical weapons and warheads met in Iraq in February; the biological team is meeting in Vienna, Austria, and will report within the next few weeks. There are also outstanding questions about nuclear issues. Butler will be accompanied to Baghdad by Gary Dillon, the chief inspector for Iraq for the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The reports of the first two teams reveal the gap between Iraqi perceptions of where Baghdad stands in the disarmament process and what the experts conclude.

The chemical experts decided that Iraq still had the know-how and equipment -- and possibly the chemical components -- "to manufacture as much as 200 tons of VX," an extremely lethal chemical agent.

"To fully verify the extent of Iraq's VX program, UNSCOM needs to receive the production records and R&D reports, including munitions trials, for the entire period of VX activities," the team report said.

Pub Date: 3/22/98

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