London, 11 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook says his country would prefer to resolve the confrontation with Iraq by diplomatic means, but so far proposals coming out of Baghdad "fall well short of our requirements."
Cook spoke to the House of Commons (lower house) last night about the stand-off with the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein who has been accused by the U.S and Britain of making and storing biological and chemical weapons in defiance of the U.N.
The U.S., with British backing, has threatened to mount air strikes against the weapons facilities as well as Iraq's command-and-control centers and special units of its Republican Guards.
Cook said: "There is no room for doubt over the scale of Saddam's chemical or biological capability, nor over his repeated attempts to conceal it." He said Saddam has practiced "persistent deception" about his "weapons of mass destruction."
Cook said Saddam claimed he had only 650 liters of the deadly anthrax biological germ, but the figure turned out to be 8,400 liters. Cook said: "He continues to have the capability to manufacture enough extra anthrax to fill two more warheads every week. One such warhead could depopulate an entire city." Cook said Saddam also has programs "to produce at least three other germ agents."
Cook said Saddam claimed that his "VX nerve gas program" had been a failure, but in fact he "has the capability to produce 200 tones of VX agent. One drop of it is enough to kill."
"Ten years ago, Saddam used chemical weapons to kill 5,000 Iraq citizens at Halabja. He also used them against fellow Muslims in his war with Iran. He will not hesitate to use them again."
Cook said Saddam has delayed or denied access to inspectors from the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) to four out of five sites where it believes concealment was taking place. UNSCOM was set up to monitor Iraqi pledges to disarm after the 1991 Gulf War.
Cook said the UNSCOM inspectors "are our only guarantee that Saddam will not fulfill his ambition to acquire the weapons that could wipe out whole cities." But he said that guarantee has little value if the inspectors are denied access to sites where they suspect chemical or biological weapons are concealed.
Cook, who last week visited Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, said Britain agrees with its Gulf allies that it would be better to resolve the confrontation by diplomatic means. For this reason Britain has proposed a new resolution to the U.N. Security Council condemning Saddam's "repeated obstruction of UNSCOM's work."
He said this approach has received widespread support, and Japan has offered to co-sponsor the resolution.
Noting attempts at diplomatic mediation by Russia, France and the Arab League, Cook said: "Saddam has a history of backing down under pressure, and we welcome the recent signs that Iraq is ready to consider a diplomatic solution." But the proposals coming out of Baghdad "fall well short of our requirements" that the UNSCOM inspectors must resume their work without restrictions.
Cook said: "Our quarrel is with Saddam Hussein, not with the Iraqi people. . . It is Saddam who has decided to use his resources to construct presidential palaces for himself and to create weapons of mass destruction for his regional ambitions, rather than to purchase food and medicines for his people."