Iraq has reaffirmed its willingness to permit United Nations weapons inspectors to verify that it no longer possesses weapons of mass destruction. But in an address to the UN General Assembly yesterday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri repeatedly called for respect of Iraq's sovereignty and security in the course of any inspections. U.S. officials dismissed the comments and continued work on a UN Security Council resolution that would authorize the use of force in the event Iraq fails to permit unfettered inspections.
United Nations, 20 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Iraq has repeated its pledge to allow unconditional weapons inspections but also signaled there may be limits to the scope of any new United Nations monitoring mission looking for weapons of mass destruction.
Iraq's foreign minister, Naji Sabri, read yesterday from what he said were excerpts of a letter from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein detailing Iraq's position on inspections. He rejected U.S. allegations that Iraq is developing an infrastructure for nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.
Sabri spoke to the UN General Assembly one week after U.S. President George W. Bush urged strong action by the UN Security Council to force Iraqi compliance with resolutions passed during the course of the 1990s.
The Iraqi foreign minister said Iraq is permitting inspections to show it is free of weapons of mass destruction and cooperating with Security Council resolutions. But he cited what he said were abuses by previous weapons inspectors, such as espionage, and indicated that Iraq would not permit this in any new mission. "Iraq was, and is still, ready to cooperate with the Security Council and international organizations. However, Iraq rejects any transgression by whosoever at the expense of its rights, sovereignty, security, and independence that is in contradiction with the principles of the [UN] Charter and international law," Sabri said.
The speech also reasserted Iraq's interest in linking the new inspections to a final settlement that will end 12 years of UN sanctions against Iraq. "Iraq has been keen to see the inspection issue discussed between the Security Council and Iraq, through the United Nations secretary-general and the representatives of Iraq, with a view to reaching a balanced formula based on the principles of the [UN] Charter and the relevant resolutions of the Security Council, within a comprehensive solution which should bring to an end the cyclone of American accusations and fabricated crises against Iraq," Sabri said.
U.S. officials dismissed Sabri's speech and reiterated concerns that Iraqi leaders are seeking to deceive the international community. Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said the speech shows Iraq is unwilling to change its attitude or behavior. "Sadly, the speech presented nothing new and was more of the same. It was a disappointing failure in every respect. This speech is an attempt to lure the world down the same dead-end road that the world has traveled before. And that represents a disappointing failure by Iraq," Fleischer said.
The Bush administration yesterday pressed ahead with resolutions on the international and domestic fronts. Diplomats at the United Nations said the United States and Britain are working on a draft resolution that calls for more thorough inspections in Iraq and authorizes the use of force in the event of Iraqi noncompliance.
Bush also asked the U.S. Congress for the authority to use military force, if necessary, to gain Iraqi compliance and restates the U.S. goal of a change of government in Baghdad. The proposal also stresses that the United States would be willing to act if the United Nations does not.
The chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, said late yesterday that he hopes to have an initial inspection team in Iraq shortly after holding preparatory talks with Iraqi officials in Vienna in early October.
Asked by reporters about the Iraqi foreign minister's speech, Blix said the references to territorial integrity come directly from Article 2 of the UN Charter. But he said his mission, known as UNMOVIC, will be guided by the directions of the Security Council. "You can have many different interpretations of what [territorial integrity] means, and I think we will have our view of what it means, and we will see to it that we are in line with what the Security Council stance is," Blix said.
Blix said he assured Iraqi officials in recent talks that he would remove any inspectors found to be spying, a main Iraqi concern. But he also stressed the need for cooperation from Iraqi officials, which has been lacking in the past. "If Iraq had cooperated and given us the information that they were supposed to give rather than hiding a lot of it, well then, I think sanctions could have been lifted possibly in '91, certainly in 1992. Instead, we were there for seven years. Today, too, I think the criterion is cooperation and respect, and I hope the Iraq will help us," Blix said.
Blix said that despite some criticism of the predecessor UN inspection mission, known as UNSCOM, it was effective and compiled a useful body of data about Iraq's weapons capabilities. He said UNMOVIC, with about 60 headquarters staff and 230 outside experts, based much of its initial research on the work of UNSCOM.