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UN: Chief Monitor Arrives; Humanitarian Official Explains Exit

  • Robert McMahon

Hans Blix began his first day of work as executive chairman of the UN's new Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) by vowing to maintain intrusive inspections of Iraqi sites. Meanwhile, the UN's top humanitarian official in Iraq, Hans von Sponeck, began his last month in office by detailing faults in the oil-for-food program. UN correspondent Robert McMahon looks at the latest developments in the complex world of Iraqi sanctions.

United Nations, 2 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The complex nature of the UN's Iraqi inspections program came under new scrutiny this week with the separate appearances of Hans Blix and Hans von Sponeck at headquarters in New York.

Blix marked his first day as head of UNMOVIC by acknowledging the challenges he will face serving a divided Security Council and dealing with a difficult regime. He told reporters yesterday (Wednesday) that he is being asked to do a technical job in what he called a "political minefield."

Blix said the Security Council's resolution creating UNMOVIC gives his mission the authority it needs to verify Iraqi weapons programs. But he said it should also be seen by Iraq as a great incentive to comply with inspections because that could lead to the swifter lifting of sanctions.

"The Security Council confirms the right of UNMOVIC to unrestricted access to sites and information and I intend to exercise that. Indeed, I think that such inspections are indispensable in order to get to credible evidence about Iraq. The Iraqis may tend to look upon inspections as a penalty which they would like to minimize. I think they should look at it like an opportunity they should maximize."

Blix, a former Swedish foreign minister, is the retired director of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). He must draw up within 45 days a new organization plan, a list of outside commissioners as advisers, and a staff of weapons experts for his commission.

The commission was created by the Security Council in a December resolution to complete the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. If Iraq complies, the council promised to consider suspending comprehensive sanctions, imposed after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Blix yesterday challenged claims by some critics that he might be too soft on Iraq due to the fact that IAEA inspections were less controversial than those of the previous UN inspection commission. He said after nine years of probes by IAEA inspectors, more is known about Iraq's nuclear sector than the other areas of concern -- biological, chemical and missile programs.

The new chief inspector admitted nuclear weapons are easier to track due to the infrastructure required in developing them. He said his commission will need to rely in part on UN member states for information about exports to Iraq to determine capability for programs such as in the biological weapons field.

But Blix also said he was sensitive to Iraqi concerns about inspectors exceeding their authority.

"One must remember always that Iraq is not a country under occupation, It is under the control of the government and you cannot go on forever to take the authorities by surprise there. The inspectors are not an army. They are not a commando troop that can leap in and shoot their way to the target."

The only current UN presence in Iraq is a humanitarian one. Von Sponeck, the outgoing head of the program that seeks to provide basic supplies from oil revenues met informally with Security Council members on Tuesday. He told reporters yesterday that he conveyed to the Council the difficult conditions ordinary Iraqis face because of the sanctions.

Von Sponeck said the oil-for-food program is inadequate in part because of the limits on funding that would improve all levels of society. And he said the situation is exacerbated by the numerous holds put on contracts by the Security Council's sanctions committee. Some committee members say the holds are necessary to prevent Iraq from importing goods used in making weapons.

But von Sponeck says the sanctions are holding back essential elements that would help make Iraqis more self-sufficient. This view is shared by a number of other humanitarian organizations active in Iraq.

"There is little chance of sustainability of such a program when you have a six-monthly cycle to order and distribute but you have no resources for training, for institution building, for creating again a more normal, functioning economy."

The humanitarian program director's comments have angered Britain and the United States. He told reporters yesterday he "got the message" that both countries wished to see him resign.

Von Sponeck, like other humanitarian officials in Iraq, was careful to lay blame on the Iraqi authorities as well for the plight of their people.

"To me the most meaningful concept in describing the situation is the concept of deprivation. Deprivation is due to internal and external factors. I have never argued that it the difficulties under which the population exists is only due to external factors. I have not done that. It is much more complex."

But von Sponeck says it is not true that the Iraqi government is stockpiling essential goods. He said the report of the oil-for-food program for January showed that more than 90 percent of the materials that came into Iraq under all phases of the program was actually been distributed to the end users.