Washington, 2 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- United Nations weapons inspection chief Richard Butler says experts will be ready soon to search Iraq's eight presidential sites to determine whether President Saddam Hussein is using them to hide weapons of mass destruction.
Butler says the inspections will be carried out without notice to Iraqi officials. He says the teams are nearly assembled but that it will take more than just a few days to launch the operation. "We will be there," he said.
Commenting on the element of surprise in carrying out the inspections, Butler said Sunday in a U.S. television interview (ABC): "We don't want to telegraph in advance that we're coming. That could defeat the purpose of any inspection."
A dispute involving inspection of sensitive sites last month brought Iraq to the brink of military retaliation by the United States and Britain. The crisis was averted -- for now -- when Saddam agreed to grant complete and unconditional access as part of an accord worked out with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Under the deal, Annan agreed to add diplomats to inspection teams that will look at previously restricted areas.
Butler said that in addition to the diplomatic observers, these special teams will include scientists, technicians and experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The Australian-born U.N. envoy said he will remain in overall charge of all inspections, reporting directly to Annan.
However, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Nizar Hamdun, disagreed with Butler. The Iraqi official said (in an interview on CNN) that the way he sees it, Annan -- not Butler -- will be responsible for directing these teams.
"That troubles me slightly," Butler said. "It (the Baghdad accord) makes it perfectly clear that the absolute core of those inspections will be from my organization or the atomic agency -- in other words, technical -- to which diplomatic observers will be added," Butler said.
The U.N. weapons chief said he will work hand-in-hand with the commissioner who will oversee the diplomatic observer portion of the teams.
"In the end, the reports that come from those inspections will go from me through the secretary-general to the Security Council," Butler said. "It's perfectly clear."
In Baghdad, meanwhile, Russian envoy Viktor Posuvalyuk said that Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz gave him further assurances yesterday that Iraq will keep its word.
Posuvalyuk, a deputy foreign minister, said he plans to stay in Baghdad for a few more days. He said he will have another round of talks with Iraqi officials after the Security Council votes on a British-drafted resolution threatening Iraq with "very serious consequences" if it reneges on the accord. The vote may come as early as this week.
Russia, China and, to a lesser degree, France oppose any military action against Iraq.