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Iraq: Senate Committee Examines U.S. Policy

U.S. policy on Iraq has again come under criticism, this time during a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing. RFE/RL's correspondent Lisa McAdams filed this report:

Washington, 23 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A U.S. Senator with oversight of U.S. Middle East Policy has characterized President Bill Clinton's Iraq policy as a failure.

Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), chairing a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing in Washington on Wednesday, said Clinton has not made a concerted effort to force Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's compliance with UN Security Council Resolutions on disarmament.

"It strikes me that what's taking place is a thing that a number of us feared, and that is that Saddam is -- and the (U.S.) Administration is in complicity with this -- is just waiting you out, that there's not a serious effort on the part of the Administration to remove Saddam from power."

Brownback said it has long been his belief Iraq must be disarmed completely. Failing that, Brownback said Saddam Hussein should be removed from power.

Brownback was not alone in his stark criticism of U.S. policy, as several witnesses spoke to the need for greater pressure and punishment of the current Iraqi leadership. A fair share of that criticism was focused on the current sanctions regime against Baghdad.

Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Edward Walker said that Iraq under Hussein was "dangerous, unreconstructable and non-compliant." But he said current U.S. policy was, in his view, having a positive affect: "We have been successful for nine years in keeping this man under containment, (so) that he has been unsuccessful in re-establishing the capability to threaten his neighbors. And it is our objective, a very serious objective, to both strengthen the controls in that area, the sanctions, as well as to work with the INC (Iraqi National Council) and others in order to build the kind of a structure they would need to actually do something about Saddam Hussein."

To that end, Walker announced that the U.S. State Department and the opposition INC would this week sign an initial grant worth over a quarter of a million dollars. He said the grant would enable the INC to continue its efforts to reach out to its constituents and to establish the infrastructure necessary to accomplish its objectives.

Walker said the U.S. also was stepping up its efforts to gather evidence to support the indictment of the top Iraqi leadership for crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes.

Next to testify was Paul Levanthal, President of the Washington-based Nuclear Control Institute. Levanthal focused his remarks around what he said were critical, yet still unanswered, questions about Iraq's nuclear weapons program. It is Levanthal's view that vital elements of Iraq's nuclear weapons program remain in place to this day.

The greatest danger, according to Levanthal, is that Iraq will acquire, or has already acquired, fissile material on the black market.

Levanthal was also critical of the man chosen to head the new UN weapons inspection mission (UNMOVIC), Sweden's Hans Blix. He was formerly with The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and was criticized for his role in arms inspections in Iraq.

"The IAEA has acknowledged that they would have little chance of detecting the smuggling into Iraq of the kilogram quantities of either of those fissile materials (uranium or plutonium) that would be enough for several nuclear weapons. Now our position is that it is important to hold Mr. Blix accountable. I would even suggest that this committee invite Mr. Blix to come and explain how he is going to operate and how differently he is going to operate as the head of UNMOVIC than he did as the head of the IAEA."

The former deputy executive chairman of UNSCOM, Charles Duelfer, was equally critical of Blix's past work, but he said some of the blame should be laid at the door of the UN Security Council.

"I'd like to just emphasize that whatever the new organization (UNMOVIC) or new Chairman can do, it's going to be vitally dependent upon the Security Council. He (Blix) can do no more than the Security Council will forcefully back up and Iraq will permit. That was true for UNSCOM and it will be true for UNMOVIC and Dr. Blix."

Duelfer said he was not optimistic there would be any "positive" change on disarmament soon especially, he said, as long as U.S. officials routinely fail to provide any incentives to Iraq to comply.