Iraqi weapons inspection ban might be tested by U.N. team Security Council silent on what it might do

August 23, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

UNITED NATIONS -- The chief U.N. arms inspector for Iraq, Richard Butler, warned Friday that he might soon test Baghdad's resolve to block further weapons inspections by sending his team to examine a new site.

"I do not rule this out," said Butler, the Australian diplomat who heads the U.N. Special Commission, or UNSCOM, which is charged with eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. "We have plenty of interesting information, and it is I who decide when to launch an inspection."

The arms inspectors must certify that Iraq has destroyed its long-range missiles and chemical, biological and nuclear weapons before the Security Council will lift economic sanctions imposed in 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait, touching off the Persian Gulf war of 1991.

"If the Iraqis block us, then obviously we can't do the inspection," Butler continued in an interview, adding, "but I simply don't know what the Security Council would do then."

On Aug. 17, the Security Council called Iraq's refusal to allow the inspectors to visit new sites "totally unacceptable" and instructed the inspectors to continue their work. But it studiously avoided making any new threats against Iraq or saying what it would do if the inspectors were stopped.

In an article on the opinion page of the New York Times that day, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said the commission had planned "some particularly intrusive inspections" this month, which Butler, consulting with her, canceled after Iraq broke off cooperation with the inspectors.

"Some in the Security Council would have muddied the waters by claiming again that UNSCOM had provoked Iraq," Albright wrote.

But a fresh standoff now between Iraq and the arms inspectors would increase the pressure on the Security Council to acknowledge that its orders are being flouted and to decide on a suitable reaction.

Many diplomats here have noted the contrast between the Clinton administration's willingness to use force against terrorist organizations in Afghanistan and Sudan last week and its reluctance to threaten any similar action against President Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

Since Aug. 5, when Iraq said it would no longer allow the inspectors to visit new sites, the 100-member U.N. inspection team has been confined to monitoring those it has already inspected to ensure that they are not used for making prohibited weapons again. Butler said he expected Iraq to begin a new vilification campaign against him and his commission tomorrow when the U.N. mediator in Iraq, Prakash Shah of India, briefs the Security Council on his unsuccessful efforts to persuade Iraq to resume cooperation with the inspectors.

"We fully expect a stepped-up campaign in the Baghdad press and from senior officials, accusing us of being American stooges responsible for all the suffering of the Iraqi people," he said.

"They have done it before, and they will do it again. The aim is simply to create a smoke screen around their refusal to cooperate or to give me the information I asked for."

Pub Date: 8/23/98

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