Disarmament DiplomacyIssue No. 27, June 1998
Iraq-UN Progress Threatened by Major New AllegationOn 24 June, Richard Butler, the Chair of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) investigating Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programmes, informed the UN Security Council of clear evidence that Iraq armed missile warheads with VX nerve gas prior to the 1991 Gulf War. Iraq has consistently denied any such arming, and was quick to dismiss Butler's claim as a politically-motivated fabrication of US scientists working at the US Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Butler told the Council that he was sending the evidence - samples taken from warhead fragments retrieved by UNSCOM in March this year - to laboratories in France and Switzerland. Speaking after addressing the Council, Butler told reporters he harboured no doubts as to the authenticity of the test results:
"It is utterly unambiguous. These degradation products could be from no other substance. These are unique products. They were VX. They were found in a missile warhead. That is weaponization."
Speaking on 23 June, after a report breaking the news appeared in The Washington Post, President Clinton observed: "It proves that the United States has been accurate and correct in our insistence all along that we support the UN inspections in Iraq... It...just shows that our insistence over these last many years on the UN inspections system is the right thing to do...and we'll stay with the position we've always had: let the inspections go forward and don't lift the sanctions until the resolutions are complied with."
British Foreign Office Minister Derek Fatchett, speaking to the BBC on 25 June, stressed that Butler's report had been accepted by all the Permanent Members, and had left them "more unanimous than they were before" about the need to both maintain sanctions and proceed with inspections. According to Mr. Fatchett:
"I think what we have been seeing...over the last few months...is a 'charm offensive' from Baghdad; they said they signed up to Kofi Annan's agreement, that they went out of their way to co-operate fully with the inspectors, but the evidence that has come out over the last 24 hours or so about VX nerve gas is evidence that is extremely strong and compelling. It shows the real Iraqi practices in the past and their intentions; they have not been telling the truth to the Security Council. The most interesting aspect of yesterday's Security Council meeting was that the Russian delegate to the Security Council said that he had no doubt about the veracity of the tests, he didn't try to defend the Iraqi position. I think the five Permanent members may well be much more unanimous now than they were before."
The development poses potentially the most serious threat yet to the new relationship between Iraq and the UN founded on the 23 February Memorandum-of-Understanding (MOU) signed between Secretary-General Annan and Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz. In the immediate run-up to Butler's 24 June report, the MOU seemed to be on the verge of producing significant progress. Butler met Aziz in Baghdad from 11-15 June to discuss what Butler termed a "roadmap" - a 14-point plan allowing for the conclusion of UNSCOM's work and the subsequent lifting of sanctions. The two sides quickly reached agreement, in Butler's words on 15 June, "upon a schedule of work for the next two months":
"Mr. Aziz and I will take stock on 9 August and it is my earnest hope that when we do that we will be looking at a slate that's been pretty well ticked off... The light at the end of the tunnel is today more visible than it has been for a very long time... What this work program does is seek to bring us forward very far and very fast towards the end of this [process]... My estimation is that that work will be of a high quality with a high degree of co-operation from both sides. So it is my hope that we will be entering [final]...reports in October."
Speaking on 16 June, Aziz spoke of his guarded satisfaction at developments: "In a sense it is a breakthrough because we always complain that UNSCOM does not specify in its view what are the few remaining outstanding issues... [It is a breakthrough] to make a distinction between what is necessary and what is important in order to complete and finish the work of disarmament...and other issues. This is a good result..."
However, on 18 June there was a warning tremor of the VX controversy when Butler wrote to the Security Council to inform it that Iraq had "refused to include some of the priority issues which had been identified by the Commission" in the new work programme. Butler elaborated: "These included the extent of the VX production, the accounting for proscribed missile propellants, and the clarification of the concealment actions and policies by Iraq." In the same letter, Butler explained the apparent disparity between his upbeat comments in Baghdad and the concerns he was raising:
"While not accepting the Commission's document, the so-called 'road map', the Deputy Prime Minister allowed the discussion in Baghdad to concentrate on the priority disarmament issues identified by the Commission in that document, but disagreed that all of them were issues of disarmament."
Speaking to reporters the same day, Butler stressed that UNSCOM had not accepted Iraq's demoting of certain issues, but that a valuable two-month work programme could nonetheless proceed:
"The report that I've just sent to the Council does deal with missile propellants and some aspects of the chemical weapon VX on which Tariq Aziz and I last Sunday night agreed to disagree: but, in my firm view, temporarily. For the time being, aspects of those two problems are not in the work programme for the first two months, but as far as UNSCOM is concerned I've made it very clear that those issues will at some stage have to be dealt with - they've not been taken off the agenda. It's just a timing question. What I've said is that these are issues that will have to be brought to account. He says he doesn't think so - I said, 'well, I'm sorry, I disagree.'"
Earlier, 3-4 June, Butler made a technical presentation to the Council on UNSCOM's work which stressed three major ongoing problems: UNSCOM's ability to verify Iraqi declarations was severely limited by the destruction by Iraq of materials and documents; Iraq frequently submitted declarations about its WMD programmes that were found to be inaccurate and/or incomplete; and Iraq sometimes refused to respond at all to requests for information and/or clarification. Speaking on 3 June, America's UN Ambassador Bill Richardson said the technical presentation "dealt a devastating blow" to Iraq's credibility among Council members. Richardson summarised the situation as the US saw it:
"The UNSCOM presentation made the following clear: one, biological weapons may be in Iraq today; two, VX nerve agents may be in Iraq today; three, Iraq continues to play hide-and-seek with UNSCOM...; and four, Iraq is still hiding the documents that would explain these weapons programs fully... Perhaps in the nuclear area, if there is adequate compliance between now and the next sanctions review, there may be a move [from inspections] to monitoring. But it is clear that in no way will there be a move to monitoring in the chemical, biological, and missile area. That was amply documented here today..."
On 19 June, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1175, authorising the purchase of $300 million of equipment to help Iraq raise $5.256 billion of oil revenues. On 20 February, resolution 1153 had set $5.256 million as the maximum amount of money to be raised through the sale of oil over a 180-day period for the purchase of food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies under the terms of 'oil-for-food' resolution 986 (1995). Following the adoption of resolution 1153, the UN Secretary-General - in a distribution plan published on 29 May - estimated that, given the current state of its oil-production facilities, Iraq could not hope to produce more than $4 billion of oil.
The 19 June resolution also stated that the details of the plan could be amended every six months, but would no longer require official renegotiation and reconfirmation by the Security Council. According to operative paragraph 5, the Security Council:
"Notes that the distribution plan approved by the Secretary-General on 29 May, 1998, or any new distribution plan agreed by the Government of Iraq and the Secretary-General, will remain in effect, as required, for each subsequent periodic renewal of the temporary humanitarian arrangements for Iraq and that, for this purpose, the plan will be kept under constant review and amended as necessary through the agreement of the Secretary-General and the Government of Iraq and in a manner consistent with resolution 1153..."
This aspect of the resolution was objected to by Iraq, which fears that a rolling oil-for-food programme could be used as an alternative to the lifting of sanctions. Iraq's UN Ambassador, Nizar Hamdoon, told reporters on 15 June that Iraq "cannot deal with any resolution that will give the programme...an ongoing nature." Speaking on 18 June, Hamdoon said that "Iraq likes to see this [180-day] phase as the last phase in the whole programme," after which there should be "a total lifting of the embargo on Iraq, which means that there will be no further need to continue any of those [oil-for-food] phases..."
Reports: US - UN experts show Iraq cheated on arms, Reuters, 3 June; UNSCOM briefing shatters Iraqi credibility, Richardson says, United States Information Service, 3 June; Iraq still a threat to region, Richardson says, United States Information Service, 4 June; UN monitor begins talks with Iraq, Associated Press, 13 June; Iraq, UN set timetable on weapons, Associated Press, 14 June; Butler - Iraqi disarmament mostly over by August, Reuters, 15 June; UN sees quick end to Iraqi disarmament, Reuters, 15 June; Iraq cites objections to ongoing oil-for-food plan, Reuters, 15 June; Iraq moves toward end of sanctions, Associated Press, 15 June; Aziz says Iraq rejects permanent oil-for-food, Reuters, 16 June; Iraq calls UN deal 'breakthrough', Associated Press, 16 June; US cautious on Iraq, will monitor performance, Reuters, 16 June; Iraq wants 'oil-for-food' deal to end in six months, Reuters, 18 June; Iraq bars some issues from UNSCOM work programme, United States Information Service, 18 June; Butler - Iraq holds back arms documents, United Press International, 18 June; Iraq rejects some items in UN disarmament plan, Reuters, 18 June; Security Council approves purchase of oil-production equipment allowing Iraq to meet 'oil-for-food' goals, UN Press Release SC/6533, 19 June; Tests show nerve gas in Iraqi warheads, Washington Post, 23 June; Clinton - US right on UN inspections, United Press International, 23 June; US says sanctions against Iraq must stay, Reuters, 23 June; UNSCOM chief says Iraq put chemical weapons in warheads, United States Information Service, 24 June; UN maintains Iraq sanctions, Associated Press, 24 June; Iraq rejects nerve gas finding, Associated Press, 24 June; UN arms chief - Iraq gas tests unambiguous, Reuters, 24 June; Edited transcipt of interview by FCO Minister of State, Derek Fatchett, BBC Radio 4, London, Thursday 25 June 1998, UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office Daily Bulletin, 25 June.
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