Disarmament DiplomacyIssue No. 25, April 1998
Iraq-UN Agreement Under Early PressureBy late April, it was clear that the 23 February Memorandum-of-Understanding (MOU) signed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, was running into serious difficulty. The MOU - intended not only to avert US-led military action against Iraq but decisively facilitate the completion of the work of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) investigating Iraq's alleged weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programmes - sought to establish beyond question the rights of UNSCOM weapons inspectors to go about their business as and when they saw fit; it also sought to reassure Iraq that the era of inspections and sanctions would be brought to an end as soon as circumstances permitted. After a promising first few weeks (see last issue) it became clear that UNSCOM remained dissatisfied both with the attitude of Iraq in certain respects, particularly rights of access for inspection teams, and with the quality of information Iraq was providing. In turn, this dissatisfaction was interpreted by Iraq as a betrayal certainly of the spirit of the MOU and the Secretary-General's peace mission to Iraq.
On 27 April, a diplomatically tense meeting of the UN Security Council failed to agree any change in the sanctions regime against Iraq - see next issue for details and reaction. The meeting was held in the wake of reports submitted to the Council by UNSCOM making clear the Commission's view that Iraq was still a considerable distance away from submitting a satisfactory, verifiable declaration fully accounting for all WMD-related materials, equipment and facilities.
UNSCOM Chair, Richard Butler of Australia, submitted his six-monthly report to the Council on 15 April. As he stressed, the period under review was dominated by crisis and delay:
"A major consequence of the four-month crisis authorized by Iraq has been that, in contrast with the prior reporting period, virtually no progress in verifying disarmament has been able to be reported... If this is what Iraq intended by the crisis, then, in large measure, it could be said to have been successful."
Butler was blunt about the scale of the task remaining:
"Iraq's claim, uttered repeatedly and sometimes stridently [during the last six months]... - to the effect that it is now absolutely free of any prohibited weapons and the equipment used to make them - is a claim which most would prefer to be true but which has not been able to be verified. The Commission's mandate does not permit it to accept disarmament by declaration alone..."
Butler criticised Iraq's recent emphasis on the importance of Technical Evaluation Meetings (TEMs) - in which officials and experts from the two sides meet to discuss outstanding issues. The TEMs, he said, "have become an extremely time-consuming process for the Commission and have slowed down, and, in some cases, led to the postponement of important field work."
Butler added that the TEMs had only served to confirm the gulf between the information UNSCOM was requesting and that which Iraq was prepared to provide:
"[N]ot only did the [TEM] process fail to improve the Commission's ability to verify positively Iraq's claims about its prohibited weapons status but, in each case, the process indicated further areas of lack of clarity and uncertainty and the need for further work in the field rather than at a conference table."
A TEM on Iraq's biological weapons programme was held in Vienna from 20-27 March. UNSCOM's report on the meeting, submitted to the Council by Butler on 8 April, was particularly damning - see Documents and Sources for substantial extracts.
On 20 April, US State Department spokesperson James Rubin argued that the 15 April report presented "a compelling case that Iraq has not complied with UN Security Council resolutions in any area of substance." Iraq, meanwhile, reacted furiously. On 21 April, speaking on Iraqi TV, Aziz repeated Iraq's claim that UNSCOM was essentially carrying out the vindictive agenda of the United States and United Kingdom:
"The makeup of UNSCOM is Anglo-American in its basis. True, [Rolf] Ekeus [former UNSCOM Chair] is Swedish and Butler is Australian, but he is of the same mould... The Deputy Chairman [Charles] Duelfer...is also American and the main experts handling the files...are either American or British, or people they have brought in as mercenaries."
Aziz referred to inspections of eight Presidential sites in late March and early April - a centrepiece of the 23 February agreement. According to Aziz: "Before the signing of the deal there was a doomsday [scenario] that these sites were full of chemical and biological weapons and these weapons can destroy the world... We asked them to take air samples, soil and water samples, even leaves and grass because when chemical and biological weapons are in a place they can be detected. We also asked them to bring equipment to check for subterranean stores or tunnels. The result was zero because all the allegations...were false. The whole ruckus that erupted lately...is made up and aims at keeping the embargo... The reason is that there is an American-British decision to control the region and its riches, oil..."
The UN view of the inspections of the Presidential sites is very different: according to officials, the inspections of the eight sites - which took place from 26 March-2 April and involved 50 UNSCOM inspectors and 20 diplomats from a monitoring group headed by Jayantha Dhanapala, UN Under-Secretary for Disarmament Affairs - were preliminary, "baseline" inspections, and no determination had yet been made about their possible use as chemical and biological weapons (CBW) sites. On 16 April, the UN Secretary-General made clear that the 23 February agreement gave UNSCOM the right to return to the Presidential sites as often as it deemed necessary: "[T]he agreement allows UNSCOM to go again and to go back again and so it was not time-specific for one time only." Annan revealed that the issue of access to the sites had been among the trickiest to resolve during his February mission:
"In fact, it was on that issue that we spent more time trying to thrash it out until we got an agreement with the President himself..." According to Deputy Chair Duelfer, speaking at a press conference alongside Annan: "On balance, the [baseline] mission was successful but it was apparent that some key issues [concerning access] will arise again in the not too distant future and the Council should be prepared to face them when they arise..."
Duelfer's concerns were echoed by America's UN Ambassador Bill Richardson on 22 April. Admitting there had been "progress" since 23 February, Richardson observed:
"The Iraqis did allow access. They, however, have said they will not allow for repeat inspections. That's a problem, because we want unfettered, unlimited access."
One area where serious progress seems to have been made is the nuclear 'file'. On 9 April, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported to the Security Council that it could find no evidence of an Iraqi nuclear-weapons programme. However, Security Council members were divided in their response. Russia drafted a resolution, in advance of the 27 April meeting of the Council, welcoming the IAEA report - effectively 'closing' the file. Speaking in Paris on 24 April, French Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yves Doutriaux described progress in this area as "clearly very significant." The same day, however, British UN Ambassador Sir John Weston described Russia's proposed - and subsequently untabled - resolution as "unbalanced", while, also on 24 April, US State Department spokesperson James Rubin made clear that the US regarded the file as still open:
"Clearly, there has been progress in the area of understanding what Iraq did, and what it is now unable to do in the nuclear area... But...Iraq has to answer questions that it has refused to answer about this area as well; namely in the area of concealment."
Reports: UN inspectors check Iraqi Presidential site, Reuters, 26 March; UN experts finish inspections, Associated Press, 3 April; UN completes inspection of all eight Presidential sites, United States Information Service, 3 April; UN ends 1st visit to Iraqi Presidential sites, Reuters, 3 April; Expert Panel says Iraqi data on biological weapons is 'inadequate', United States Information Service, 14 April; Annan - UNSCOM visits to Presidential sites have no time limit, United States Information Service, 16 April; UN - no progress made in Iraqi disarmament, Reuters, 17 April; Iraq still far from satisfying weapons inspectors, United States Information Service, 17 April; Iraq says US seeks 'new crisis' over arms, Reuters, 20 April; US blasts Iraq on arms cooperation, Reuters, 20 April; Iraq blames US, British 'mercenaries', Reuters, 21 April; Richardson - no lifting Iraq sanctions, United Press International, 22 April; Russia wants Iraq inspections over, Associated Press, 24 April.
© 1998 The Acronym Institute.