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Iraq: New Head Of Arms Control Body Raises Questions

  • Charles Recknagel

The UN Security Council's choice of Hans Blix to head the new UN arms control body for Iraq has broken a deadlock over how to find a chief inspector acceptable to all members. But as RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel reports, the compromise raises as many questions as it answers.

Prague, 27 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The UN Security Council has finally agreed on who should head the new arms control body for Iraq, after reportedly rejecting more than 25 other candidates in weeks of discussions.

The choice of Swedish diplomat Hans Blix Wednesday appears to bridge what until now has been an impassable divide. On one side are Britain and the United States, which want to ensure that Iraq has completely dismantled its programs of weapons of mass destruction. On the other are Russia, China, and France, which want arms inspectors to move on from investigating past efforts to ensuring that no new weapons are developed. That shift would speed prospects for an early easing or lifting of sanctions.

Blix was proposed by France's ambassador to the UN after Russia, China, and France balked at nominating Rolf Ekeus, who was supported by the U.S. and Britain. And so far, all Security Council members seem satisfied, both with the choice of Blix and with his qualifications. The Swedish diplomat previously headed the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, in Vienna for 16 years, until he retired in 1997.

But some analysts say Wednesday's agreement on a compromise candidate may raise as many questions as it answers.

William Hopkinson, a security expert at the Royal Institute for International Affairs in London, says one question is how well the choice of Blix will satisfy Washington and London in the long run.

"The U.S. and U.K. positions have always been for highly intrusive verification and going in and opening up whatever was necessary to satisfy themselves, [but] that does not fit with Blix's background. It doesn't mean that he couldn't do it, but the very fact that the five permanent members of the Security Council have come together and agreed raises, I think a whole set of interesting questions."

As head of the IAEA, Blix oversaw the agency's work in Iraq to detect and dismantle Baghdad's nuclear programs after the Gulf War. Unlike the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), which adopted an intrusive approach to investigating Iraqi chemical, biological, and missile programs, the IAEA maintained relatively good working relations with the Iraqi authorities.

"The IAEA went through a sort of scripted ballet rather than [UNSCOM's] ad-hoc inspection routines. I think what one can say is that [Blix's] role in the past has been dealing with [the IAEA as] a truly multinational organization, which has carried out inspections very much to a prescribed formula, rather than going in and, as it were, being deeply innovative as some of the early inspections in Iraq had to be."

The IAEA under Blix was criticized for not uncovering Iraq's nuclear program prior to the 1991 Gulf War, despite years of visits under a nonproliferation treaty permitting the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Hopkinson says that what he calls the IAEA's non-intrusive approach is close to what France, Russia, and China have in mind for future arms inspections.

"[These countries] have presumably got in mind two sets of things. One is not to be intrusive, certainly for Russia and China. They do hope to mend bridges with Iraq or to give Iraq a degree of support and certainly Iraq was not prepared to tolerate an intrusive regime. And [secondly] there is nothing to suggest Iraq has changed its position, so there will be problems with any effort to be deeply intrusive."

The analyst says it is too early to know precisely what inspection strategy Blix will follow once he is formally appointed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. But Hopkinson predicts that the Security Council members' agreement on his nomination does n-o-t mean their dispute over tactics is at an end. He says the current unanimity over Blix is a papering-over -- not a solution -- of the Security Council's problems.

"I think [Blix] will be subject to a lot of lobbying. Whether he will be subject to lobbying from the U.S. for a really hard line is one of the questions. Until the U.S. and the U.K. adopt a different strategy towards Iraq, I think [the differences will continue], because France, China and Russia have got a view about relaxing sanctions, about starting to bring Iraq in from the cold. It doesn't mean they like [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein at all, but they have a view about the handling. So long as Washington sees no way forward toward that integration [of Iraq back into the international community] and the others are positioning themselves for an earlier softening, it is indeed a papering-over of the cracks."

Wednesday's agreement on a head for the UN arms inspection effort now leaves only one obstacle to the return of arms monitors to Iraq. That is Iraq itself. Baghdad so far has said it will not allow Blix or any other inspector into the country.