Disarmament DiplomacyIssue No. 17, July - August 1997
New UNSCOM Chair Seeks End to Iraq SagaOn 1 July, Richard Butler, formerly Australia's Ambassador to the UN, succeeded Rolf Ekeus of Sweden as Chair of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) on Iraq. The Commission has been working since 1991 to ensure and certify the termination and disablement of Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programmes.
On 30 June, the United States paid tribute to the six-year Chairship of Ambassador Ekeus. According to State Department spokesperson John Dinger:
"We applaud the major contributions to international peace and security made by Ambassador...Ekeus...during his six years as Executive Chairman... Ekeus has been skillful, tenacious, and highly professional in following the charter given to him by the Security Council to pursue the truth about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He has established UNSCOM as a rigorous and highly respected arm of the international community. ..."
Ambassador Butler made his first visit to Baghdad in his capacity as Chair-elect on 21 June. In an interview with the Al-Hayat newspaper, published on 21 June, Butler said he was determined "to follow an objective path" and hoped "to be able to complete my mission as soon as possible." For that to be possible, he conceded, "major progress" would be necessary, "especially in the field of biological and chemical weapons":
"I hope Iraq will think along the same lines because the progress we are looking for will require a real readiness to cooperate from Iraq."
On 25 June, Butler met Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz. According to Butler, Aziz "offered full cooperation. So that was a good way to start and I'm very satisfied."
The same day, comments by Ekeus casting doubt on the value of such assurances were published in the New York Times. According to the outgoing Chair:
"We have documentary evidence about orders from the leadership to preserve a strategic capability... That means to keep the production equipment ready to produce at any given moment."
In an interview with Reuters on 29 June, Aziz accused Ekeus of grossly misrepresenting Iraq's policy and ambitions:
"He knows very well that all the arms have been destroyed. All the equipment related to their production and [which] could be used for production have either been destroyed or they're under full control and monitoring by the United Nations... It is not in the interest of Iraq to keep those arms. It would be quite absurd to conceal a small amount of proscribed weapons while our people are suffering from continuous sanctions. ... We know very well that any concealment could not last under the monitoring system, with the continuous inspections made by UNSCOM and IAEA. It would be quite absurd to do that. Therefore he's not correct..."
The first weeks of Butler's Chairship went smoothly, in sharp contrast to Ekeus's last weeks in post. On 4 August, an UNSCOM biological weapons inspection team concluded a trouble-free 10-day tour of facilities. According to Nils Castrom, Director of UNSCOM's Weapons Office in Baghdad: "I cannot get into details of the inspection, but I can say that everything went smoothly and without problems... I can call it a good sign of cooperation." On 10 August, a second biological weapons inspection team arrived for a 5-day follow-up visit. On 11 August, they were joined by a ballistic missiles inspection team.
June, however, saw almost no inspection activity, following the disruption by Iraqi forces of attempted UNSCOM site-visits and helicopter flights (see last issue). On 21 June, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution (1115) demanding "that the Government of Iraq allow the Special Commission inspection teams immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to any and all areas, facilities, equipment, records and means of transportation which they wish to inspect in accordance with the mandate of the Special Commission."
The resolution was adopted following a 18 June update from Ekeus, who told reporters after the briefing:
"If we let Iraq decide when and where we should inspect, the value of...the Gulf War agreement is called into question. This is a challenge to the United Nations."
Iraq's response to the resolution did not impress UNSCOM's Deputy Chair Charles Duelfer, who told reporters in Bahrain on 24 June: "They indicated that they would continue to cooperate with UNSCOM... Iraq did not indicate, however, that it would comply with the requirements...for an immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to information, locations and documents."
Duelfer added that the status of Iraq's biological weapons programme and stocks was now the Commission's main concern, describing it as the "least well-understood, well-documented and well-verified" of all Iraq's weapons endeavours.
Speaking at the UN on 1 July, Butler echoed this concern:
"Biology...is a big concern at the present time... In the hideous world of weapons of mass destruction, the biological stuff is just awful."
Reports: UN hears new complaints against Iraq, UPI International News Wire, 18 June; Text - UN Security Council Resolution 1115, Iraq, United States Information Agency, 23 June; UN sees no indication of full Iraqi compliance, Reuters World Service, 24 June; Iraq's biological arsenal 'secret', AP Online International News Wire, 24 June; Tareq Aziz offers 'full cooperation' with new UNSCOM chief, Agence France-Presse International News, 25 June; UNSCOM's new chief assures objectivity to Iraq, Xinhua English Language News Service, 26 June; Aziz says Iraq clean, attacks US, Ekeus, Reuters World Service, 29 June; Departure of UNSCOM Chairman Rolf Ekeus, US State Department statement, 30 June; New UN arms chief worried about Iraq's germ weapons, Reuters World Service, 1 July; Iraq heads for collision with UN over weapons, Jane's Defence Weekly, 2 July; Baghdad awaits visit by new UN official on disarmament, Agence France-Presse International News, 20 July; New UN weapons inspector arrives in Iraq, AP Worldstream International News Wire, 21 July; New UN arms chief Butler heads for Baghdad, Reuters World Service, 21 July; UNSCOM's new chief - we'll do a quick job, Xinhua English Language News Service, 21 July; Biological weapons team completes visit with no problems, AP Worldstream International News Wire, 4 August; More UN arms inspectors arrive in Baghdad, Agence France-Presse International News, 11 August.
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