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Iraq: Naming New UN Arms Control Chief Difficult

  • Charles Recknagel

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to name a head for the new UN arms control commission for Iraq on Friday. RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel reports on the challenges the new appointee will face.

Prague, 12 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- When the UN passed a resolution last month to revive weapons inspections in Iraq, it set itself a target of January 16 for naming the head of its new arms control commission.

With that deadline fast approaching, many expect Secretary-General Kofi Annan to name the head of the commission on Friday. The naming will be the first step toward getting the new commission -- called the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, or UNMOVIC -- into operation.

But analysts say there is no certainty that the secretary-general will be able to meet the target deadline. Before he can name a candidate, the 15-seat Security Council -- and particularly its five powerful permanent members -- must agree on the choice. And that is proving difficult.

RFE/RL spoke with Terrence Taylor, an arms control expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, about how the choice of a candidate is progressing. He said there is a strong likelihood that the effort to find a new arms inspection chief will run longer than this weekend's target date.

"Although the resolution says it has to be done by the 16th of January [and then the person appointed has 45 days to actually work up [create] a new [arms control] organization and set out a plan, I think there is going to be a lot of difficulty over finding the agreement on the name. So, they may not be able to manage that by the due date."

Analysts say the members of the Security Council remain divided over where they want the new arms inspection regime for Iraq to lead. The new regime was adopted in a vote last month which saw abstentions by three permanent members: China, France, and Russia. The three felt that the proposal -- which offers an easing of sanctions if Iraq agrees to cooperate with new arms inspections -- did not go far enough in spelling out exactly what conditions Baghdad must meet before the sanctions can be suspended. Iraq has so far said it will refuse to cooperate with anything short of a full lifting of sanctions.

Taylor says the Security Council is now divided over whether the head of the new arms commission should be a hardliner or softliner in interpreting the conditions Baghdad must meet under the UN offer. Those conditions center on the completion of several disarmament tasks left unfinished under the previous arms monitoring commission, UNSCOM, whose inspectors Baghdad barred from Iraq more than a year ago.

"Russia, France and China are looking for a pathway for the lifting of sanctions, so they see [the choice of a candidate] as a political process to get the sanctions lifted. Others feel the top priority is the disarmament process, that Iraq must not be allowed to restart its weapons of mass destruction program. That's where the different expectations are: those who want a hard and good, solid disarmament process will back the person who is likely to deliver that and be a robust negotiator."

The leading names being considered to head the new arms commission are Pasi Patokallio of Finland and Istvan Gyarmati of Hungary. Taylor says that both would be tough negotiators with Iraq.

"The one [name] I have heard most about is Paso Patokallio of Finland. And he is experienced in the disarmament field and has worked in that area for some time. He would be extremely knowledgeable about the issues in a technical sense, but also well aware of the politics involved in this kind of activity, so he would be extremely well qualified. Gyarmati also would be. He is a former defense secretary in Hungary, he has been deeply [involved] in the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is the implementation arm of the Chemical Weapons Convention, so, again, he is another person who would be extremely well qualified to do this job."

Whoever finally receives the top position at the new arms commission will need both technical expertise and considerable diplomatic skills to carry out his functions without falling victim to the political turmoil that has come to surround the job.

The winning candidate will be the third UN chief arms inspector for Iraq, following Rolf Ekeus and Richard Butler. The two predecessors enjoyed a mixed record.

Ekeus served more than six years and, while vilified by Baghdad, finished his tenure to the plaudits of his UN colleagues. Analysts say he was strongly supported -- particularly in the first years of the UN disarmament effort -- by the Security Council in taking a tough stance with Baghdad.

But Butler came to the scene as divisions were already appearing in the Security Council over how long to maintain tough sanctions to enforce cooperation with arms inspections. Those divisions -- fueled by Iraq's non-cooperation -- saw calls from Russia, China and France to ease or lift sanctions and impatience with Butler's hardline approach to inspections and monitoring. He finally resigned last summer under strong political pressure.

The head of the new UNMOVIC will face the same challenges. But Taylor says ultimate success or failure is probably in the hands of Baghdad. He says that if Baghdad wants sanctions lifted and agrees to cooperate with arms inspections, the new UNMOVIC chief can make that happen quickly.

"You can look at [the position of arms control chief] two ways. It is either an opportunity or a poisoned chalice. And so much depends on how the Iraqi side are going to play things. Because if the Iraqi regime has really made up its mind that it wants the sanctions lifted, and the suffering of the Iraqi people really counts for them, then the next head will be able to deliver." But if Baghdad does not cooperate with arms inspectors, Taylor says, there are certain to be more bruising power struggles ahead.

"If the Iraqi regime, which is not short of money for its own purposes -- I just mean the ruling elite -- takes the other track to be difficult with inspectors, then whoever the new head is, they are going to have a hard time. So, much depends on which track the Iraqi regime has decided to go down."

How Iraq will react to the appointment of a new UN arms control chief remains to be seen. Even as the UN moved this week to launch its arms control commission, Baghdad remained silent on whether it would ever cooperate with the new body at all.