Disarmament DiplomacyIssue No. 29, August - September 1998
Profound New Deadlock in IraqSummary
By the end of August, a situation of deadlock and stalemate again obtained between Iraq and the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) investigating Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programmes, barely six months after an era of decisive cooperation seemed to have been ushered in by the 23 February Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. While UNSCOM's monitoring programme continued largely intact, its more urgent programme of inspections - some unannounced, and some to previously unvisited sites - had been terminated by the Iraqi authorities amid a familiar welter of accusations of US-inspired political persecution. Similar actions by Iraq at the start of the year brought the situation to the brink of large-scale military attacks on Iraq by the US and a number of allies. The new breakdown, however, was widely reported as being extremely unlikely to lead to military conflict. Instead, the US and its major ally on the UN Security Council, Great Britain, seem set on intensifying Iraq's diplomatic isolation, making clear that without unconditional cooperation with UNSCOM there is no possibility of sanctions either being lifted or even reviewed. On 9 September, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1194 suspending the Council's regular, 60-day, review of the sanctions - see next issue for details and reaction.
Chronology of the Breakdown
On 27 August, UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter resigned in protest at he direction of US and UN policy over Iraq. In his resignation letter to Butler, Ritter, a former US Marine Corps captain accused by Iraq of working for US and Israeli intelligence, claimed that the Security Council had decided to "downplay the significance of the recent Iraqi decision to cease cooperation with Commission inspectors," a decision tantamount to admitting that it was "no longer willing and/or capable of the implementation of its own law" The letter went on:
"This abrogation of its most basic responsibilities has made the Security Council a witting partner to an overall Iraqi strategy of weakening the Special Commission. ... [The] current decision by the Security Council and the Secretary-General, backed at least implicitly by the United States, to seek a 'diplomatic' alternative to inspection-driven confrontation with Iraq...constitutes a surrender to the Iraqi leadership that has succeeded in thwarting the stated will of the United Nations. ... [T]he Special Commission of today, hobbled as it is by unfettered Iraqi obstruction and non-existent Security Council enforcement of its own resolutions, is not the organization I joined almost seven years ago... The refusal and/or inability on the part of the Security Council to exercise responsibility concerning the disarmament obligations of Iraq makes a mockery of the mission. ... What is being propagated by the Security Council today in relation to the work of the Special Commission is such an illusion, one which in all good faith I cannot, and will not, be a party to."
Butler reacted sadly to the news, stating on 27 August: "Scott and I agree that there is still work of disarmament to be done... I intend to continue to seek to do the work in order to try to make it possible at the earliest moment...to be able to tell the Security Council with surety, with evidence, that Iraq is disarmed."
Ritter's resignation came within a fortnight of a report in the Washington Post (14 August) claiming that the US, and specifically Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, had intervened on a number of occasions to stop UNSCOM from conducting inspections which might prove confrontational. Albright swiftly and succinctly denied the charge, telling reporters (14 August): "I do not tell Chairman Butler what do to." However, speaking on NBC television on 30 August, Ritter said there was "no doubt" US policy had changed, for the simple reason that "what's required to compel Iraq to allow the weapons inspection teams to continue disarmament tasks is [a higher price] than this Administration is willing to pay." He then stated specifically:
"Richard Butler was informed by Madeleine Albright [and] by [National Security Advisor] Sandy Berger on numerous occasions that they felt that the inspections that he had authorized were [of] too confrontational a nature and that they were not prepared to confront Iraq in the Security Council at this time, and they asked that he would back off... [O]n the one hand, you have the United States saying that we must continue the job of inspections; but as an inspector, you have the United States holding you back..."
The White House denied that US policy had changed. In the words of White House spokesperson Barry Toiv (28 August): "US policy...has not changed. Our goal since 1991 has been to contain this dangerous regime and to keep them from getting dangerous weapons of mass destruction." The same day, House of Representatives' Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote to the President, stingingly attacking the current US stance:
"If the US backs down from this confrontation, as it now appears we are doing, it will destroy our credibility and have devastating consequences for the United States, our allies and the world."
Reports: IAEA says Iraq still has the ability to build nuclear weapons, United States Information Service, 28 July; US says Iraq still not cooperating with nuclear inspectors, United States Information Service, 29 July; Iraq's Aziz criticizes UN's Butler, Associated Press, 3 August; UN disarmament talks in Iraq fail, Associated Press, 3 August; Iraq MPs vote to end arms inspections, Reuters, 5 August; UN arms inspector says no 'crisis' over Iraq, Reuters, 5 August; Iraq stops UN weapons inspectors, Associated Press, 6 August; Security Council statement on Iraq, Associated Press, 6 August; Iraq: Statement by the President, The White House, 6 August; Iraq is in violation of UN accords, Kofi Annan and the UNSC say, United States Information Service, 6 August; Annan urges Iraq to comply on arms, Reuters, 10 August; Butler urges Iraqi resolution, Associated Press, 12 August; Butler tells UN Council arms teams cannot work, Reuters, 12 August; UN envoy urges Iraq to cooperate, Associated Press, 13 August; US sought to prevent Iraqi arms inspections, Washington Post, 14 August; White House denies Iraq report, Associated Press, 14 August; Security Council wants Iraq inspections to continue, United States Information Service, 17 August; Security Council gives go-ahead for Iraqi inspections, United States Information Service, 18 August; Iraq turns down inspection request, Associated Press, 20 August; UN Council chastises Iraq and extends sanctions, Reuters, 20 August; Iraq asks UN chief to take action against Butler, Reuters, 25 August; US arms inspector quits Iraq unit, blasting UN, Reuters, 27 August; Harsh criticism on disarming Iraq, Associated Press, 27 August; Ex-UNSCOM inspector warns about Iraq's hidden weapons, United States Information Service, 28 August; Gingrich criticizes US policy on Iraq, Reuters, 28 August; For the record, Washington Post, 30 August; Iraq demands that UN probe UNSCOM, Associated Press, 31 August; Ex-arms inspector says US is afraid, Associated Press, 31 August.
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