Give inspections teeth

October 30, 2002

HANS BLIX, the chief weapons inspector for the United Nations, couldn't be plainer in explaining the necessity for a tough Security Council resolution on disarming Iraq. For his teams to do a rigorous and forthright job, they need unequivocal support from the council of nations and an unambiguous warning about the consequences if Baghdad defies them.

The United States this week quickly embraced Mr. Blix's opinion as support for its position about how best to proceed against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. What matters is not that Mr. Blix's assessment bolsters U.S. demands for a strong mandate. What matters is that Mr. Blix's candor can't be dismissed as political posturing or war-mongering by U.N. members reluctant to take on Mr. Hussein.

If those same Security Council members, namely France, Russia and China, are sincere about relying on the weapons inspectors to determine the extent of Iraq's biological and chemical weapons capability and to assess the dangers posed by the regime before any action is taken against Iraq, then they have to give Mr. Blix the tools to do the job. And Mr. Blix couldn't have been clearer on that score. Besides a strong mandate, credible intelligence data would be helpful to Mr. Blix's inspectors, information that would remain with the council -- and not the individual countries -- as it should be.

The protracted debate on Iraq has turned on key council members' refusal to include a "serious consequences" clause in a resolution. They contend that the phrase would sanction a U.S. attack against Iraq at the first sign of Baghdad's interference with U.N. inspectors. But surely the Bush administration can agree to return to the Security Council for a consultation on how and when to act against Iraq, to determine, in the words of a French diplomat, the "clear rules of the game." A majority of Americans don't want their soldiers to go it alone in Iraq's hostile capital or desert environs. Surely the administration can make that concession to its allies to move the Iraq debate forward.

And for the record, neither Mr. Blix nor his colleague, Mohamed el Baradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has given his support to the U.S. draft resolution making the rounds at the United Nations in New York. On the contrary, they have identified aspects of the proposal that they find impractical or unworkable.

In his meeting with council members, Mr. Blix implored them to move ahead, while cautioning them against consigning his inspectors to a "cat and mouse" game with Iraq.

The man knows what he needs to do the job. Security Council members should dispense with their games and respond in kind.

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