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UN: Arms Inspectors May Resume Work In Summer

  • Robert McMahon

Six months after the creation of a new UN arms control body for Iraq, the panel's chief has given his first indication of when inspections can resume. The UN Security Council is also preparing to renew the humanitarian program in Iraq today. Correspondent Robert McMahon reports on the latest UN efforts to provide aid to Iraqi civilians and renew scrutiny of the government's weapons programs.

United Nations, 8 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The executive chairman of the UN's arms control commission for Iraq, Hans Blix, says inspections in the country could resume as early as late summer.

Blix told reporters on Wednesday that the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, known as UNMOVIC, is close to filling most of its senior positions as well as posts on other levels.

Following training sessions early this summer, Blix says, the UNMOVIC inspectors could be ready to carry out preliminary work in Iraq in a few months.

"I would think that about the earliest date that we can undertake some inspections -- so-called re-baselining to see what has happened [during] the year and a half that is past -- would be towards the end of August."

Weapons inspectors from the previous UN inspection commission, known as UNSCOM, as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency left Iraq in December 1998 ahead of U.S. and British airstrikes. Those strikes were launched to punish Iraq for failing to cooperate with the inspectors. Iraq then barred UNSCOM from returning, and the commission was replaced by UNMOVIC in December 1999.

UN Security Council resolutions require Iraq to destroy its weapons of mass destruction or continue to face sanctions that have been in effect for nearly 10 years. Iraq had denounced the UNSCOM inspections as intrusive and accused the mission's inspectors of spying.

Iraq has refused to accept the Security Council measure that set up the new inspection team -- resolution 1284. That measure provides for a prompt end to the sanctions as soon as inspectors verify Iraq has destroyed its biological, chemical, nuclear and missile programs.

Iraq says it no longer possesses such weapons. It has declined to contact UNMOVIC as required under Security Council resolutions.

Council members have been divided over the severity of sanctions against Iraq but they issued a statement on Wednesday expressing support for Blix and his organizational plan. Security Council President Jean-David Levitte, France's ambassador, said council members call on Iraq to work with the new inspection team.

"They reaffirm that the cooperation of the government of Iraq is essential in order to implement resolution 1284 and before the council can decide to suspend and, afterwards, lift the sanctions."

Blix's plan calls for UNMOVIC inspectors to come from around the world and be paid for out of the UN budget, not volunteered by member governments. This is designed to bar them from receiving orders from their governments or any other outside body. The previous arms inspection commission relied on experts paid by their own governments.

The UNMOVIC quarterly report, sent to the Security Council earlier this month, says the commission's staff is to undergo four-week training courses in historical, legal, administrative, and political issues related to weapons inspections and monitoring activities in Iraq. They will also study the historical and cultural background of Iraq.

The plan also calls for a field office in Bahrain for the use of UNMOVIC and IAEA inspectors.

Security Council representatives would not comment on the timetable for resuming inspections in Iraq. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock of Britain told reporters that Blix is making good progress after three months of work.

Greenstock said UNMOVIC's work, combined with the expected renewal of the oil-for-food program today, indicates some momentum on Iraqi matters before the council.

"I think you're seeing some pretty solid work to follow up [resolution] 1284, and the United Kingdom is very satisfied with that."

The oil-for-food program allows Iraq to use revenues from oil sales to provide for humanitarian needs. The United States frequently places holds on contracts for items believed to have a dual usage. International relief agencies and some Security Council members have criticized the holds, saying they contribute to the deterioration in living standards for ordinary Iraqis.

The UN office that administers the program says that nearly 1,100 contracts worth $1.6 billion were placed on hold through the end of last month. The contracts are for sectors such as health, water and sanitation, electricity and transport.