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UN: Council Avoids Rupture On Time Line For Disarmament As Inspections Intensify

  • Robert McMahon

The United Nations Security Council has avoided, for the time being, a potentially divisive debate over the reporting deadlines for UN arms inspectors working in Iraq. The United States had sought to set tighter time lines than envisioned by chief inspector Hans Blix, but other council members disagreed. In the end, no decision was made. The council talks took place amid stepped-up inspections in Iraq that revealed empty chemical warheads and intensified scrutiny of Iraqi scientists.

United Nations, 17 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The United States has failed to persuade other Security Council members to defer plans by the chief United Nations weapons inspector to report on Iraqi disarmament in late March.

U.S. officials are concerned by the plans of Hans Blix to follow the procedures set by 1999's Resolution 1284, which established his inspection mission. Those procedures allow for Blix to present the council with a new work program on Iraqi disarmament by 27 March, which could delay U.S. efforts to get council backing for a military confrontation against Iraq.

Council members France and Russia oppose moves to undo that time line, and the issue was seen as potentially divisive for the council.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, told reporters after yesterday's council talks that Washington is concerned about sending the wrong signal to Iraq. "We do have some question as to whether the 27th of March is the right time to outline the key remaining disarmament tasks of UNMOVIC and to talk about an ongoing verification and monitoring regime, because we believe that that could leave the impression that most of the disarmament tasks had already been accomplished," Negroponte said.

Negroponte said the matter of time lines would be raised again after the next scheduled report on 27 January by Blix and the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammad el-Baradei. Negroponte stressed the importance of keeping Iraq under pressure to comply with Council Resolution 1441, approved in November, which gives inspectors a strong mandate. "Both resolutions are valid. Both of them are in force," he said, adding, "I think there was a harmony of views within the council that however we handled differences or nuances of interpretation that it's got to be done in a way that maintains council unity on the one hand and keeps the pressure on Iraq to cooperate immediately, unconditionally, and proactively with the inspection regime."

Washington has stressed that the second resolution requires urgent compliance from Iraq, and it has accelerated troop deployments in the Persian Gulf region to underline its seriousness.

Britain, the United States' top ally, has contributed to these deployments but has also expressed support for giving inspectors more time to do their work. Britain's UN ambassador, Jeremy Greenstock, repeated yesterday that, unless there are any dramatic findings, his country sees the 27 January briefing by inspectors as part of a series of reports. "The two resolutions both have their jobs to do. [Resolution] 1441 is more pressing. We see the next report of the inspectors as one of a series, a series that's already started. We're fairly sure that that series will continue into February and on," Greenstock said.

UN inspectors in Iraq, meanwhile, appear to have intensified their search for signs of chemical-, biological-, nuclear-, or ballistic-missile programs. The UN inspection mission reported the discovery of 11 empty 122-millimeter chemical warheads.

The significance of the finding was not immediately clear. Iraqi officials said the materials were already listed in the country's December declaration on weapons of mass destruction. But a UN spokesman in Baghdad told the Associated Press that the warheads had not been declared. Such an omission, coupled with a failure to cooperate with inspectors, could constitute a further "material breach" under Resolution 1441.

Inspectors yesterday also searched the homes of two Iraqi scientists in Baghdad. One scientist was later taken to an inspection site outside the capital before returning to the inspectors' hotel with a box of documents.

Blix and el-Baradei will be in Iraq on 19-20 January to address a range of what they say are unanswered questions, including Iraqi programs to use anthrax, the nerve agent VX, and other biological agents as weapons.

Iraqi presidential adviser Amir al-Saadi told a news conference that his country was ready to answer any questions. But he expressed doubt about Iraq's ability to be more proactive in helping inspectors. "What is required from us? If [it is] something like bringing weapons out in the open and saying: 'Here we are. These are the hidden weapons. Take them.' If you call that 'proactive,' quote, that will never happen, because we simply don't have those weapons," al-Saadi said.

Blix and el-Baradei have also said they doubt Iraqi statements concerning their personnel associated in the past with programs on weapons of mass destruction. Blix told the council last week that Iraq had given a list of names that included 117 experts for its chemical sector, 120 people for the biological sector, and 156 people for the missile sector. But he said this list did not include experts listed on previous Iraqi weapons declarations.

A spokesman for Blix, Ewen Buchanan, told UN Radio yesterday that the issue will be addressed in the upcoming meetings in Baghdad. "Another issue which will be raised is this list of Iraqi personnel which Iraq provided us earlier, which we found inadequate, and we will hope to get more information from the Iraqis on all of these issues. It's an opportunity for them to give us anything prior to Dr. Blix having to write this 27th-of-January update on the 60 days of inspections. So it's an important time line," Buchanan said.

UN officials say that if the experts once associated with banned weapons programs can be proven to have moved to authorized areas of work, this could strengthen Iraq's assertions that it has eliminated its programs for weapons of mass destruction.