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UN: Course of Action Unclear As Impatience With Iraq Grows

Diplomats from UN Security Council states say there is general concern about Iraq's attitude toward disarmament following a sharp critique by the chief UN inspector. But divisions remain about the course of action needed to bring Iraq into compliance with Security Council resolutions. The level of council consensus may be clearer after consultations set for today with the two top weapons inspectors.

United Nations, 29 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The UN Security Council is to continue discussions today with the top two UN weapons inspectors amid signals of growing international impatience with Iraq over its level of cooperation.

The closed-door meeting with Hans Blix and Mohammad el-Baradei is intended to focus on technical details related to Iraqi nuclear, chemical, biological, and ballistic-missile programs. But it also presents an opportunity for council members to present their latest views on how to address the Iraqi disarmament process.

A number of states yesterday expressed concern at Iraq's failure to cooperate fully with UN inspectors. One day earlier, Blix said in a detailed report to the Security Council that Baghdad appears unwilling to engage in full disarmament.

The United States, backed by Britain, says it is time to consider the "serious consequences" threatened in the November resolution authorizing new inspections. But other key council members support more time for inspections.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Bush, in his State of the Union speech on 28 January, said Secretary of State Colin Powell will go to the Security Council on 5 February to present new evidence against Iraq to the international community.

Council diplomats said yesterday that a majority of council states agree that Iraq is not cooperating, but there is not majority opinion that a tougher course of action is needed. Bulgaria's UN ambassador, Stefan Tafrov, told reporters there is a need for the Security Council to act in a unified way to increase the pressure on Iraq. "Many delegations during the [latest] consultations agreed that the missing element was proactive cooperation on behalf of Iraq, and the Council should deliver proactive cooperation some way or another. We should, in our view, put some pressure on Iraq to do that," he said.

Tafrov did not say how long inspections should be allowed to continue.

Permanent council member Russia, which has long been Iraq's strongest backer on the council, also used unusually strong language to press for Iraqi cooperation.

President Vladimir Putin, speaking in Kyiv, said Russia would consider tougher measures for the Security Council to take against Iraq if it obstructs inspections. "If Iraq starts hampering these [UN weapons] inspections and creates problems for the inspectors, I do not rule out the possibility that Russia might change its position. We intend to work with other permanent Security Council members, including the United States, in working out other possible solutions," Putin said.

Also yesterday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in an interview with an Arab daily newspaper, said Iraq is facing a military strike unless it abides by Security Council resolutions and stops putting obstacles in front of UN inspectors.

But a senior Iraqi official said yesterday that the UN inspectors' reports are unbalanced. Amir Rashid, who is an adviser to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, said the reports distort the true findings of the inspections. Rashid reiterated that Iraq no longer possesses weapons of mass destruction and is complying properly with inspectors. "We are still, of course, ready to cooperate further, to put extra effort whenever it is necessary, but this has to be done in cooperation. We cannot be put in a position where we are sort of being a suspect, and we have to prove that we are not guilty," he said.

But on the ground in Iraq, there are continuing signs of difficulties facing inspectors. Hiro Ueki, a spokesman for UNMOVIC, the UN monitoring mission, told reporters in Baghdad yesterday that inspectors have so far been unable to interview Iraqi officials in private. In each case, Ueki said, the Iraqi officials have requested witnesses to be with them. "To date, UNMOVIC has requested to interview in private 16 Iraqi individuals, but no private interviews have taken place so far. UNMOVIC will further seek private interviews, as allowed in Security Council Resolution 1441," he said.

In his address to the Security Council on 27 January, Blix called for Iraqi authorities to fulfill commitments to encourage individuals to accept private interviews. He said that in the past valuable information has come from such interviews. But he said there have also been cases in which the person being interviewed was intimidated by the presence of Iraqi officials.