No role in arms search for U.N.

U.S. says war coalition will hunt for Iraqi caches

France urges end to sanctions

Blix calls for return of his inspection team

Postwar Iraq

April 23, 2003|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration rejected a United Nations role in the search for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction yesterday, brushing aside arguments that international inspectors are needed to lend credibility to any discoveries.

Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said the United States and key allies would hunt down Iraq's banned weapons. He added that military-led investigators would ensure that any discoveries are beyond dispute.

"Make no mistake about it," Fleischer said. "The United States and the coalition have taken on the responsibility for dismantling Iraq's WMD."

The American envoy to the United Nations, John D. Negroponte, said the United States would handle the inspections "for the time being and for the foreseeable future."

Washington's stance defied demands from France, Germany and Russia that U.N. inspectors, led by Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, be sent quickly back into Iraq. The U.N. inspectors' search was halted just before the United States invaded Iraq.

The U.S. position risks further straining tensions between the United States and those three nations.

The United States has assembled a team, led by the Defense Intelligence Agency, to scour Iraq for weapons sites. The U.S. military investigators also intend to interview officials of the deposed Iraqi regime, some of them in U.S. custody, to gain a fuller understanding of Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.

But the search has yet to produce any solid evidence that Iraq possessed such weapons at the time the war began. The United States faces suspicions, particularly in Arab countries, that without international oversight, the U.S. military will plant incriminating evidence to provide justification for its invasion.

Blix urged the U.N. Security Council in a closed-door meeting yesterday to send his inspectors back into Iraq to verify any discovery or destruction of banned Iraqi weapons by U.S. teams of investigators. Blix said this would give the search "international credibility."

He also leveled fresh criticism at Washington. In an interview with the BBC, Blix said the U.S. assertion that Saddam Hussein's regime had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction rested on "shaky" intelligence. U.S. patience with U.N. inspections, Blix suggested, seemed to run out just as Iraq was becoming more cooperative with the U.N. inspectors.

Targeting sanctions

The Bush administration's effort to end U.N. economic sanctions on Iraq, meanwhile, received help yesterday from France, which had adamantly opposed the U.S. invasion. France, a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, unexpectedly proposed that the sanctions, except those applying to military equipment, be suspended.

Still, it insisted that the sanctions could not be lifted entirely, as the United States wants, until U.N. inspectors verified that Iraq had been disarmed. France urged that those inspectors be allowed to work alongside American investigators.

Russia, another veto-wielding member of the Security Council, has threatened to oppose any lifting of the economic sanctions until U.N. inspectors verify that Iraq has been disarmed.

U.S. officials are considering using some international mechanism - possibly U.N. inspectors - to certify any weapons discoveries made by the United States. This might be needed to persuade the Security Council to lift sanctions completely. Even Britain, America's close ally in the war, says independent verification is needed.

But the Bush administration seems determined to keep Blix and the organization he leads, the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, out of Iraq. Fleischer insisted that the military-led searches, monitored by the news media, would be open enough to satisfy the world.

"I think that there will be no question in the eyes of the world, including the reporters who remain in Iraq, at the end of the day when the analysis is complete, that the process has been one of integrity, one of reliability and one of accuracy," Fleischer said. When the search is complete, he said, there will be "no dispute among reasonable people" about what was found.

Blix's criticism of American intelligence and policy-makers appeared to worsen an increasingly sour relationship with the administration. Some administration officials say Blix was not aggressive enough, before the war, in trying to expose Iraq's efforts to obstruct U.N. inspectors.

Blix, who retires in June, had made no secret of his desire to prevent a war in Iraq and to show the usefulness of international inspections in eradicating weapons of mass destruction without the need for force. On several occasions, he has criticized the intelligence he received from governments, most of it from the United States, to help in his search. In one interview, he called it "rather miserable."

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