U.S. steps up pressures on U.N. arms inspectors

Washington wants quick denunciation of Iraqi failure to cooperate

January 16, 2003|By Mark Matthews and Tom Bowman | Mark Matthews and Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The United States is working to derail plans by a top United Nations weapons inspector for months of further inspections in Iraq, pressing him instead to intensify his efforts to expose alleged Iraqi deception between now and his next report to the U.N. Security Council late this month, administration officials said yesterday.

U.S. officials have called on inspector Hans Blix to scrap plans for a subsequent report to the council in March and plan to tell other council members today that without Iraqi cooperation, the whole inspections process will be of little use.

"Immediate, active cooperation and a final opportunity for Iraq to disarm - that should be the focus," a senior administration official said yesterday. "Are they or aren't they cooperating?"

This new, tougher posture by the Bush administration points toward a likely showdown with other members of the Security Council soon after Blix makes his next report Jan. 27.

At that point, the United States is expected to make a major effort to persuade other countries, as well as the American public, that Iraq has failed to comply with U.N. mandates.

This effort, in turn, could set the stage for either war or a last-minute diplomatic push to persuade Iraq to disclose and dismantle its weapons of mass destruction.

U-2 surveillance

U.S. officials spelled out their stance on future inspections as the Pentagon declared it was ready to fly high-altitude U-2 spy planes over Iraq to assist the inspectors but that Iraq had complained about using them.

Iraqis told Blix in a letter that sending the U-2s over central Iraq would complicate Iraqi air defense forces' mission of targeting British and American warplanes that patrol no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon news conference.

The United States has been pressing Blix to make use of the U-2 and unmanned Predator surveillance aircraft. Blix has agreed to accept the U-2s, with U.S. pilots, but a spokesman said yesterday that the aircraft won't be put into service until after U.N. officials in Baghdad discuss concerns raised in the Iraqi letter, dated Jan. 12.

Backed by most members of the Security Council, Blix and the other top U.N. weapons inspector, Mohamed ElBaradei, have stressed in recent days the need for more time to search for hidden Iraqi programs to produce nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

Blix draws his authority from a 1999 resolution that created the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, which he heads, and laid out a program for weapons inspections, installation of monitoring equipment in Iraq and follow-up inspections. If Iraq cooperated "in all respects," it would be rewarded by the removal of economic sanctions imposed in 1990 after it invaded Kuwait, according to the 1999 resolution.

Following that guideline, Blix told the British Broadcasting Corporation on Monday that he plans to report to the council in late March on further steps needed to disarm Iraq.

If the Security Council supports him, this could push the timetable for launching a war to disarm Iraq into April. U.S. military planners prefer to fight in the winter months before the intense desert heat sets in, which stands to enhance the rigors of the battlefield, particularly if soldiers have to don chemical-weapons suits.

The Bush administration insists that the resolution adopted Nov. 8 takes precedence over the 1999 resolution and highlights its offer of a "final opportunity" for Iraq to disarm before facing "serious consequences." That resolution also demands a full disclosure of Iraqi weapons programs and total cooperation with inspectors.

U.S. officials say Iraq already fell afoul of the new resolution by submitting a 12,000-page weapons declaration full of falsehoods and omissions. While not directly threatening to try to shut down the inspections after the Jan. 27 report, the officials say they want Blix and ElBaradei to concentrate only on the next two weeks.

"No realistic [future] program [of inspections] can be developed while Iraq lies and thwarts inspectors," a White House official said.

Mounting evidence

If the next two weeks are used properly by U.N. inspectors, U.S. officials say, they expect the evidence against President Saddam Hussein to mount.

First, they want Blix and ElBaradei to press Iraqi officials to fill in the gaps in the weapons declaration, and they say Iraqi refusal to answer the questions would be further evidence of a lack of cooperation.

Then they want inspectors to summon Iraqi scientists for private interviews, preferably in Cyprus or some other site outside Iraq.

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