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Iraq: U.S., UN Remain Out Of Touch On Weapons Inspections

  • Robert McMahon

U.S. officials say they have not yet decided whether United Nations inspectors will be enlisted to verify Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. But at the UN, officials stress that their inspectors still have a valid mandate in Iraq. The legal aspects governing Iraqi inspections may be open for debate, but the U.S.-led coalition could face pressure to work with UN monitors to confer legitimacy on their findings.

United Nations, 15 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Coalition forces are currently carrying out the only weapons inspections in Iraq, but officials at the United Nations continue to insist that the mandate for disarming Iraq rests with UN monitors.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan ordered inspectors and other UN staff out of Iraq nearly one month ago ahead of expected military strikes by the U.S.-led coalition. He has said repeatedly he expects the inspectors with the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission -- known as UNMOVIC -- to return as soon as conditions allow.

Under UN Security Council resolutions, the inspectors need to confirm that Iraq has settled its disarmament obligations before sanctions can be lifted.

A spokeswoman for Annan, Hua Jiang, reaffirmed the UN position yesterday.

"Once the security situation allows, then the UNMOVIC staff will go back and continue their activities. Meanwhile, the Security Council resolution regarding disarmament still stands."

But so far, U.S.-led forces have not contacted UNMOVIC and have signaled plans to intensify their own inspections as the military campaign in Iraq winds down.

Coalition officials are hoping for valuable information from two senior Iraqi officials who surrendered in recent days.

One of them is Jafar Jafar, a leading Iraqi nuclear scientist who turned himself over to authorities in an unnamed Middle Eastern country and was being interviewed by U.S. officials.

The second key source is expected to be General Amer al-Saadi, the top technical and scientific adviser to Saddam Hussein. In his latest interview, al-Saadi repeated that Iraq no longer possesses weapons of mass destruction.

Despite the denials, U.S. officials hope al-Saadi and other scientists will reveal more about Iraq's alleged banned weapons in time. U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, a top Defense Department official, addressed this hope yesterday at a news briefing. "The whole idea of gathering information on their weapons of mass destruction program, we believe, gets measurably easier once we have a safe and secure environment, where we can start to talk to people in Iraq, as more people feel safe and secure that the regime is gone and we have the ability to connect the threads, as it becomes police work."

Meanwhile, a U.S. diplomat told RFE/RL yesterday that Washington has made no decision yet on working with UN inspectors. The diplomat said the U.S. administration is still in the process of internal discussions about a range of issues involving the UN and Security Council resolutions.

He said there are ongoing consultations with Britain about the UN. "We're sharing ideas with them in terms of our discussions about what type of resolutions that we'd want to see come forth out of the council," the diplomat said.

The decision to sideline UN inspectors could be a waste of valuable expertise, says Amy Smithson, who directs the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Project at the independent Henry L. Stimson Center.

Smithson tells RFE/RL that international inspectors should be brought into Iraq at the earliest possible opportunity to help ensure that any findings are seen as impartial.

"This is not just about whether or not the United States and other coalition partners want to take steps to cooperate with international entities that some would argue could and should play a role in this," she said. "This is also about whether or not the rest of the world will view what coalition forces find as legitimate evidence."

That issue has also been raised by Security Council members, especially those opposed to the war. Russian President Vladimir Putin called on 13 April for the UN inspectors to return to Iraq soon. He said any finds by the coalition forces cannot be considered legitimate.

The current president of the council, Mexican Ambassador Adolfo Zinser, told reporters yesterday that the council was considering a meeting to discuss the possible resumption of UN inspections.

He said several states had called for a council meeting with chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix and Muhammad el-Baradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear regulatory agency.

Aside from Security Council resolutions, experts say the United States may be obliged to allow independent experts into Iraq under arms control treaties. For example, under the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iraq signed, the IAEA has monitoring powers on Iraq's nuclear facilities. Experts say the United States would be obliged to permit IAEA inspectors to review such facilities.

Another treaty that may require independent inspections is the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. The United States has signed the treaty and, according to one legal interpretation, would come under its provisions by taking possession of Iraqi chemical arms.

But the treaty does not explicitly refer to the responsibilities of an occupying power in a time of war. The current circumstances highlight the differences in dealing with weapons of mass destruction on an international enforcement basis, says Barry Kellman, who directs the International Weapons Control Center at DePaul University in Chicago.

"While we categorize weapons of mass destruction all the same, the involvement of the international community with regard to nuclear materials is, I think, quite clear; with regard to chemicals, it's quite ambiguous and with regard to [biological weapons], it's totally nonexistent."

The Biological Weapons Convention of 1975 lacks any inspectorate to monitor its prohibitions.

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