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Iraq: UN Arms Control Regime Awaiting Chief

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is urging the Security Council to name a chief for the new UN disarmament agency for Iraq by today. RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel interviews arms control expert Terrence Taylor regarding what the new agency, called UNMOVIC, will do.

Prague, 14 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Terrence Taylor heads the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. An arms control expert, he has worked as a UN weapons inspector with Iraq, and is closely following the UN's efforts to create a new arms monitoring regime for Baghdad.

The new arms regime -- which Iraq has yet to accept -- relies on a recently created UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, or UNMOVIC, to oversee Iraqi disarmament. The agency replaces the former UNSCOM (UN Special Commission), whose inspectors have been barred by Baghdad from Iraq for more than a year.

UNMOVIC is due to take a major step towards operation today as the UN Security Council seeks to agree on a name for its new head. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged Security Council members to agree on a candidate by today.

The UN has said that if Baghdad agrees to work with UNMOVIC, the cooperation can lead to the easing of sanctions. Key to the easing would be Baghdad's cooperation in completing several outstanding disarmament tasks which UNMOVIC is to specify in the weeks ahead.

RFE/RL asked Terrence Taylor what some of these initial tasks are likely to be.

"The most pressing [task] probably lies in the biological weapons program. There is insufficient knowledge on the part of the Special Commission [UNSCOM] on the amount of production of different types of agents and the extent of the research program and the level of technical capabilities and who, exactly, was involved in the program. So, there is a bit of a gap of knowledge there and there are a lot of inconsistencies, particularly to do with the number of warheads that were made and the amount of agent of different types."

He says other outstanding disarmament tasks focus on chemical weapons.

"Another major area has to do with the chemical area, which is the VX nerve agent, which is the more advanced nerve agent, and there is lack of clarity regarding the amount of precursor chemicals, that is the chemicals essential [for manufacture] that are not in themselves chemical warfare agents but which when mixed are major components in making the agent in the end. And the Iraqis have not been clear about how much or where it is and so on, so there are a lot of inconsistencies there."

Taylor says more information is also needed on the people who were involved in the chemical weapons programs and what they are doing now. He says some additional information is also needed regarding Iraq's nuclear and missile programs but that this is seen as less of a priority by UN arms inspectors.

The analyst says that in addition to pressing Iraq to complete dismantlement work in these areas, UNMOVIC will immediately begin monitoring facilities to assure they are not used for weapons development activities in the future. This is in line with UNMOVIC's intention to ultimately switch its emphasis from investigating past mass destruction weapons programs to preventing future ones. The switch is a change of focus from UNSCOM's activities.

Taylor says that UNMOVIC will operate differently from UNSCOM in several other ways, too. For one, the head of UNMOVIC will report to the Security Council via the UN secretary-general, and not directly to the council as before. That will involve the secretary-general more closely in evaluating Iraqi progress in disarmament.

The analyst says the new arrangement meets longstanding complaints by Iraq and several Security Council members that arms monitoring of Iraq has been overly dominated by the United States and Britain.

"Iraq, and Russia and China and others -- France, of course -- wanted the secretary-general to be in the loop so to make it much more a normal part of the UN system, so it wasn't some entirely separate commission with people appointed to it by member states and paid for by member states as if it were operating as an entirely separate organization ... It is a political fix to try to keep the Security Council together and to overcome some of the objections, not only by Iraq but some of the other members of the Security Council."

Both Washington and London have previously insisted that sanctions on Iraq remain in place until Baghdad fully demonstrates it has no weapons of mass destruction. But other Security Council members have favored a softer line.

Another difference is that the arms commissioners working with UNMOVIC will hold more frequent formal meetings than did commissioners with UNSCOM. This, too, addresses longstanding complaints by Iraq and several Security Council members, which accused UNSCOM of setting a slow pace for reviewing Iraqi compliance.

"The commissioners -- we are not quite sure how many [there will be] but probably the same number as before, which was 21 commissioners overall -- will meet ... about every 120 days or so to review progress. Previously, the commissioners only formally met every six months ... This is another bureaucratic and visible fix."

One thing yet to be fully decided is the composition of the staff of UNMOVIC and how much of it will be drawn from inspectors who previously worked with UNSCOM. The UN resolution which created UNMOVIC last month stated that experienced personnel should be drawn from the broadest possible geographic base. Until now, arms inspectors have been heavily drawn from Western countries such as the United States and Britain, sparking Iraqi complaints that they were biased against Baghdad.

Taylor says that the meaning of the wording "broadest possible geographic base" has yet to be determined. But he predicts that finding people who are technically expert in arms control requires that many will again be drawn from the West, since Western countries have the most experience in biological, chemical, and nuclear weaponry.

"'Widest possible' is the word [but] the word 'possible' is the important one because there is only a limited number of people around who have the knowledge and expertise to do this kind of thing. You can't just do it purely on the basis of geographical representation, otherwise you will have people who know nothing about the biotechnology industry or how a missile is constructed and made."

Taylor notes that more than 44 countries had people involved in UNSCOM at some time or another, and most of the time some 20 countries participated. He says this reflects the small number of states that have expertise with the weapons in question and may represent a natural limit to the size of the pool UNMOVIC's inspectors can be drawn from.

That means that many of the inspectors who worked with UNSCOM in the past are likely to return with UNMOVIC. They will bring along with them years of experience -- and conflict -- in dealing with Iraq, despite Baghdad's expressed desire never to see them again.