Washington, 16 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen says Iraq must first offer proof it has destroyed all weapons of mass destruction if it wants an end to economic sanctions.
Cohen says the U.N. weapons inspection process is not designed to guarantee that Baghdad is living up to the Gulf War cease-fire. Under the terms that ended the 1991 conflict that drove Iraq out of Kuwait, Baghdad promised to destroy all its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons capabilities.
Cohen noted in a television interview yesterday (on the U.S. cable network CNN) that Iraq is a relatively large country. He said even if the weapons inspectors can go about their work unhindered, they are "basically trying to find chemically tipped and biologically tipped needles in a haystack."
And, Cohen said, that is not a measure of real success.
"What is required is for (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein and his officials to produce evidence that they have in fact destroyed weapons of mass destruction," Cohen said.
"They have failed to do so. And until such time as they do we cannot say there has been compliance," the secretary said.
Cohen said it is true that weapons inspectors have been working largely unobstructed since U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan worked out a deal in Baghdad last month. But, he says, problems remain.
"Recently a technical evaluation team was sent to Iraq at the request of (Deputy Prime Minister) Tariq Aziz, and that team headed by a Russian came back and said that the Iraqis had continued to stonewall and delay and obfuscate," Cohen said.
He did not elaborate or disclose when the incident took place.
Late last week, the chief of the U.N. inspection team, Richard Butler, said his teams were not satisfied that Baghdad was revealing everything about its weapons. The Australian diplomat singled out suspected Iraqi biological weapons research.
The United States called off a threatened military strike against Iraq after Annan received a written pledge from Baghdad to open up all sites to inspections. U.S. President Bill Clinton has made it clear subsequently that military force could be used if Iraq reneges on its word.