U.N. inspector's report sets up another U.S. vs. Iraq showdown Butler accuses Baghdad of failure to cooperate with weapons monitoring

December 16, 1998|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun staff writer Tom Bowman contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- The chief United Nations weapons inspector reported yesterday that Iraq had failed to cooperate fully with U.N. disarmament efforts, presenting President Clinton with a national security headache as he labors to head off his own impeachment.

The White House has been waiting for the report by Richard Butler before deciding whether to carry out repeated threats to punish Iraq militarily.

But the impending House impeachment vote this week made it unlikely that the president could give his full attention to a new Iraq crisis. An added problem is the beginning this weekend of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a period of fasting and prayer.

Nevertheless, the 10-page report is likely to make it difficult, if not impossible, for the U.N. Security Council to move toward easing sanctions against Iraq. The council had promised to begin a comprehensive review of Iraqi behavior, but only if Baghdad cooperated fully with weapons inspections.

Butler, chairman of the U.N. Special Commission, or UNSCOM, turned the report in last night to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who is expected to prepare his own assessment of Iraqi cooperation for the Security Council.

The report said Iraq has failed to cooperate fully with U.N. arms inspectors, as it had pledged last month when President Clinton nearly launched military strikes, and has imposed new obstacles. Butler said Iraq failed to hand over documents on the development of chemical and biological weapons and barred inspections at a Baghdad site of the nation's ruling Baath Party.

"In spite of the opportunity presented by the circumstances of the last month, including the prospect of a comprehensive review, Iraq's conduct ensured that no progress was able to be made in either the fields of disarmament or accounting for its prohibited weapons programs," Butler said in a letter to Annan.

Announcing Nov. 15 that Iraq had agreed to cooperate with the inspectors, Clinton warned: "Until we see complete compliance, we will remain vigilant; we will keep up the pressure; we will be ready to act."

Since then, top U.S. officials have repeated the warning. On Nov. 26, the president's national security adviser, Samuel Berger, said: "The issue here is whether Iraq will meet its obligations under the Security Council resolutions and whether UNSCOM is able to do its work. If we reach the conclusion that the answer to those questions is negative, we obviously are prepared to act."

Last week, National Security Council spokesman David Leavy said: "If Iraq does not live up to its obligations and UNSCOM cannot do its job effectively, we have the force to respond if it proves necessary."

The inspectors say they are a long way from being able to conclude that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein poses no threat to the region with chemical and biological weaponry.

Since the mid-November crisis, Baghdad has halted three inspections and balked at turning over a number of documents sought by UNSCOM. On Dec. 9, Butler said Iraq had created "a very serious situation" when Iraq blocked UNSCOM inspectors from entering the ruling Baath party offices unless it limited inspectors to four and said in advance what the group was seeking.

UNSCOM was also barred from a military base of the People's Mujahedeen, an Iranian opposition group that operates from inside Iraq. Last Friday, a Baghdad-based chemical monitoring team was prevented from inspecting a warehouse on grounds that it was the Muslim sabbath.

"When Iraq blocks an inspection, we assume that Iraq has something it doesn't want inspectors to see," he said.

"Richard Butler's report will certainly have an impact on what our future strategy is toward Iraq," Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said yesterday. "We have not ruled in or ruled out any options at this stage."

Another U.S. official said that at a minimum, Butler's findings made it unlikely that the U.N. Security Council could proceed with a comprehensive review sought by Iraq and its allies.

"The question now is, does it warrant a comprehensive review, and I think the answer is no," a U.S. official said.

Iraq wants to be able to export oil freely, as it did before U.N. sanctions were imposed after its invasion of Kuwait in August of 1990. Right now it is pumping all the oil it can, but Hussein's regime can't use the profits as it wants. Instead, they go into a closely monitored program to supply food and medicine to the Iraqi people.

Yesterday, Iraq's government newspaper al-Jumhouriya said if the United States "insists on maintaining the embargo and manufacturing more crises," it should expect UNSCOM's "work against Iraq to continue."

Pub Date: 12/16/98

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