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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 28, July 1998

Iraq And UNSCOM Wait for Final VX Verdict

As reported in the last issue, in late June Richard Butler, the Chair of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) investigating Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programmes, informed the Security Council of evidence that Iraq armed warheads with the VX nerve gas prior to the 1991 Gulf War. Iraq, which has always denied such a possibility, claimed that the evidence - taken from warhead fragments - had been fabricated by US scientists. On 16 July, a team of 15 UN experts, led by Horst Reeps of Germany, left Iraq with 80 warhead fragments. The fragments will be tested for traces of VX at laboratories in France and Switzerland - according to UN spokeswoman Janet Sullivan, the tests are expected to last at least a month. Confirmation that the warheads were armed with the nerve gas is likely to cast grave doubt over other Iraqi assurances about its WMD programmes, and may further lessen the prospect of the speedy completion of UNSCOM's mission and, in turn, the lifting of sanctions against Iraq. The VX controversy arose at a time when a 'roadmap' for completing UNSCOM's work had been agreed, at least in broad outline, in talks in June between Butler and Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

In a televised address on 17 July, President Saddam Hussein warned that Iraq's cooperation with UNSCOM inspections was dependent on the prospect of the lifting of sanctions in the foreseeable future - certainly by the end of the year. The President predicted that 1998 would witness "the death blow to the blockade, breaking its chains and ignominiously defeating the evil doers, villains and minions."

Of the four main components, or 'files', of UNSCOM's work - nuclear, chemical, biological and missiles - most progress has been made with regard to certifying that Iraq no longer has a nuclear weapons programme, or stocks of nuclear materials, equipment or key technologies. However, on 5 July, America's UN Ambassador Bill Richardson told Fox News that: "We want Iraq to answer more questions on nuclear design, nuclear exports and uranium technology... Iraq is already saying that the nuclear file will be closed and we think that's very premature..." The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is due to provide the Security Council with its assessment at the end of July (see Editor's Note, below). The Council is due to make its six-monthly determination on the status of UNSCOM's work as a whole, and the continuation of the sanctions regime, in October.

On 2 July, a US F-16 fighter aircraft fired a HARM missile (high-speed anti-radiation missile) at an Iraqi anti-aircraft battery in southern Iraq. US officials said the missile was fired in order to defend American and British aircraft, helping to operate a no-fly zone, which were being targeted by the battery. An Iraqi Government spokesperson (2 July) claimed that the missile landed "in a demilitarised zone near the city of Umm Qasir in which there was no Iraqi radars or military units".

Editor's note: on 27 July, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei informed the Security Council that the Agency had been "unsuccessful in its endeavours to locate verifiable documentation of the abandonment of the clandestine nuclear programme." ElBaradei added that Iraq retained "the knowledge and the technical capability to exploit, for nuclear weapons purposes, any relevant materials or technology to which it may gain access in the future. " See Documents and Sources for an IAEA Press Release on ElBaradei's report, and next issue for reaction.

Reports: Iraq to cooperate with inspectors, Associated Press, 26 June; Amb. Bill Richardson says US firing at Iraq radar was appropriate, United States Information Service, 30 June; US confirms HARM missile missed Iraq target, Reuters, 2 July; Iraq shows TV film of missile, US sanguine, Reuters, 2 July; US says will oppose Iraqi nuclear clearance, Reuters, 5 July; UN team takes Iraq warhead samples, Associated Press, 13 July; UN arms experts leave Iraq, Associated Press, 16 July; Saddam vows to fight UN sanctions, Associated Press, 17 July; IAEA says Iraq still has the ablity to build nuclear weapons, United States Information Service, 28 July.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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