Ex-arms chief criticizes U.N. on Iraq

Interview reveals depth of Butler's fury, frustration

August 01, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

In a defense of his troubled tenure as chief of the United Nations Special Commission responsible for disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, Richard Butler has accused Secretary-General Kofi Annan of trying to destroy the commission because it was "too independent."

Butler, who resigned as chairman of the commission July 1, also savagely criticizes virtually everyone else associated with the protracted effort to disarm Iraq of unconventional weapons. The exception is the Clinton administration, which he says, contrary to allegations by Scott Ritter, a former weapons inspector, was largely steadfast and alone in its efforts to "hold Saddam's feet to the fire."

He also repeats allegations that Yevgeny M. Primakov, the former Russian prime minister who was foreign minister at the time, received personal payments from Iraq. He provides no evidence for this charge, which Russian officials have denied, other than citing what he calls "intelligence reports from an outstanding source."

Butler, a former Australian ambassador to the United Nations and disarmament expert who is now diplomat in residence at the Council on Foreign Relations, issues his bitter indictment of many of his former colleagues, along with Iraqi and Russian officials, in an article to be published tomorrow in the first issue of Talk, the heavily promoted monthly magazine edited by Tina Brown, the former editor of the New Yorker and Vanity Fair.

Billed as the "inside story" of his efforts to disarm Iraq, the article is Butler's first detailed account of the decline and fall of the U.N. Special Commission, known as UNSCOM.

It contains little that is new about Iraq's cheating, the events that ultimately led to the commission's problems and its expulsion from Iraq, or the extent to which Butler's personality and uncompromising style may have compounded the commission's difficulties.

But it does reveal the depth of Butler's fury and frustration over his failure to win allies among the senior U.N. officials on whom his mission depended.

The account highlights in particular his contempt for Annan and other U.N. officials and diplomats who, in Butler's view, have permitted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to retain the capability for mass murder.

Calling Annan's behavior "deeply alarming," Butler describes a succession of incidents, several of which have not been previously reported, in which he says the secretary-general dealt with Iraq's political challenges and cheating by "papering them over with diplomacy."

"Annan and his immediate staff sought to hand Saddam the greatest possible prize: the destruction of UNSCOM," Butler asserts, because "UNSCOM was too independent to work within the mainstream of the U.N."

Shashi Tharoor, Annan's spokesman, called Butler's assertion that the secretary-general had tried to destroy the Special Commission "bizarre" and "nonsense." He noted that Annan had involved himself in UNSCOM affairs only "at critical moments to resolve specific crises."

According to Butler's account, the U.N. "cave-in" to Hussein began in 1996 when Rolf Ekeus, the highly regarded Swedish diplomat who was Butler's predecessor, agreed to Iraqi restrictions on the access of weapons inspectors to sites that Baghdad deemed "sensitive" for national security reasons. Butler calls the move a "direct violation" of Security Council resolutions.

After Butler took over in 1997, Russia, China and France refused to block Iraqi efforts to bar the inspectors from "presidential sites," which, as Butler states, were eight areas covering 30 square miles that included 1,100 buildings, many of which were ideal for weapons storage.

Butler charges that Annan was not only soft on Hussein and enamored of diplomacy for its own sake, but tried to undermine -UNSCOM's work.

For instance, Butler asserts that Annan pressed him to accept Iraq's exclusion of U.S. citizens from inspection teams. "I was incredulous," Butler writes. He said he prevailed only after explaining to Annan that giving Iraq veto power over the composition of teams would undermine their quality and set an "unacceptable precedent." Moreover, he asserts that Annan failed to grasp essential distinctions involving the commission's disagreements with Iraq on the eve of the secretary-general's much-publicized trip to Baghdad in February 1998. The trip produced an agreement that led temporarily to resumed inspections -- and to Annan's description of Hussein as "a man I can do business with." Annan has subsequently expressed regret about having been so optimistic.

Butler is also strongly critical of Russia, recounting that Primakov told him in Moscow that sanctions against Baghdad should be lifted and Iraq free to sell oil for profit so that Russia could collect the $7 billion it was owed by Iraq for weapons.

By contrast, Butler praises President Clinton, who he says urged him at an impromptu meeting at a New York party in March 1998 to "do your job down the line" and "go get their armaments."

Pub Date: 8/01/99

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