United Nations, 21 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Britain's ambassador to the United Nations is dismissing charges by Russia that UN weapons inspectors are being pressured to provide a pretext for war on Iraq.
Jeremy Greenstock told reporters yesterday that monitors are clearly working under the guidance of chief UN weapon inspector Hans Blix, whom he called a "professional and independent executive chairman."
"If you look at what they're doing on the ground, they're doing what Hans Blix and [International Atomic Energy Agency head] Mohammad el-Baradei are asking them to do, and they're making their independent decisions. I don't see [outside pressure] at all," Greenstock said.
Earlier yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said UN inspectors are facing pressure to provide information that could be used as a pretext for war on Iraq. "According to the information we have, the international weapons inspectors are being put under very strong pressure to leave Iraq, as happened in 1998, or to submit to the UN Security Council assessments that could be used as an excuse for a military operation against Iraq," Ivanov said.
Ivanov did not mention any specific countries. The previous UN inspection mission, UNSCOM, was withdrawn from Iraq in 1998 in advance of U.S. and British air attacks. Those air strikes were conducted in retaliation for what the U.S. and Britain had viewed as Iraq's noncompliance with the inspections process.
The Russian foreign minister said in later comments that Moscow wanted to raise concern about the inspectors because the Security Council depends on the objectivity of their reports.
Russia and fellow permanent Security Council members France and China remain opposed to the U.S.-British call to consider military action against Iraq for violating its disarmament obligations.
Blix's spokesman, Ewen Buchanan, did not respond directly to Ivanov's comments but told RFE/RL yesterday that Blix is in regular contact with a number of states about inspection issues. "Blix gets advice from many member states, but it's up to him ultimately to judge the course for UNMOVIC [UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission]. By way of example, this week he's had meetings with Greenstock, [U.S. Ambassador John] Negroponte, the Germans, the French, the Russians, and that's just for starters."
Blix has repeatedly said he does not follow the wishes of any single member state. Prior to his progress report to the Security Council on 14 February, Blix met with U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. News reports said Rice had urged Blix to emphasize Iraq's lack of compliance.
But Blix's latest report stressed that Iraqi officials had made some progress on cooperation, although a number of key unanswered questions remained.
Meanwhile, Buchanan confirmed yesterday that Iraq has complied with a longtime UN request and handed over the names of people who took part in the destruction of banned material from its biological and missile programs. Iraq had already provided a list of 83 people who it said took part in the destruction of banned chemical weapons and materials.
Blix and his aides will examine the new list and decide whether to seek interviews. Such interviews, which the UN insists take place in private, have been difficult to conduct. Buchanan says Iraqi scientists continue to ask for permission to tape the interviews or bring along friends or relatives as witnesses, all of which the UN refuses to allow.
UN inspectors have made 30 unsuccessful requests for private interviews with Iraqi scientists since the last one was carried out about two weeks ago.