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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 29, August - September 1998

Profound New Deadlock in Iraq


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 29 July, in a private meeting, the Security Council considered a report submitted on 27 July from the IAEA on the status of Iraq's nuclear-weapons programme. The Council was split on the implications of the report, with Russia arguing it meant the nuclear 'file' could now be closed - with inspections being replaced by monitoring - and the US leading the argument that inspections remained necessary. In the words of US Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson (29 July), the IAEA report "makes it absolutely clear that Iraq has made no progress; that it has failed to provide information on weapons design, in uranium enrichment, on nuclear experts. Accordingly, there is no reason to close the nuclear file." Faced with such a split, the Council took no action. See last issue for a summary of the IAEA's findings.
  • On 3 August, talks in Baghdad between Butler and Aziz broke down, with Aziz accusing the UNSCOM chair of focusing on "minor issues which make no sense from the angle of disarmament." Speaking in London on 5 August - the day the Baghdad talks were scheduled to close - Butler gave his account of the breakdown. Prefacing his remarks by saying "I don't think any of us should describe this as a crisis," Butler said he had asked by Aziz to declare that UNSCOM had accomplished its mission: "I said 'I can't do that because...I don't have a magic wand. I can't do disarmament by declaration. I have to have evidence for any such claim, and sadly there's insufficient evidence to justify your claim that you don't have any more weapons'. I appealed to him to give us those last bits of evidence that we need. He declined to do so."
  • On 5 August, Iraq announced it would not cooperate with any further UNSCOM inspections. The announcement came in the form of a resolution unanimously endorsed by the Iraqi Parliament, in a session chaired by President Saddam Hussein. A statement released after the decision was taken read: "Iraq completely suspends its cooperation with the UN Special Commission within its current set-up and the International Atomic Energy Agency."
  • On 6 August, Iraqi officials refused to allow an unannounced inspection by IAEA inspectors working under UNSCOM auspices. The same day, a Security Council Presidential statement denounced Iraq's moves as "totally unacceptable." The statement stated that Iraq's new position "contravenes the relevant Security Council resolution and the Memorandum of Understanding signed in February." Addressing the Council, in remarks later made public, Annan said it was his view "that, rather than allowing this situation to deteriorate into a crisis, the Security Council should engage with the Iraqi authorities in order to resolve the problem." Annan reportedly called for "a more direct dialogue than has occurred hitherto." However, Annan also made clear, speaking to reporters, that Iraq could not expect support for its proposal to change the status and role of UNSCOM - a message which he had personally conveyed to Aziz: "[I] made clear to him that that the Iraqi suggestion that UNSCOM should be restructured and moved from New York is something that was not acceptable. ... No individual member State can tell the UN how to restructure itself to carry out tasks or mandates." Also on 6 August, President Clinton characterised Iraq's new stance as "another misguided attempt to divide the international community in order to gain the lifting of the sanctions." The President's statement continued: "These sanctions have denied Iraq over $120 billion in resources to rebuild its military and build more weapons of mass destruction. Its current tactics once again will backfire. Unless Iraq reverses course and cooperates fully...the United States will stop any and all efforts to alter the sanctions regime."
  • On 10 August, Annan dispatched his Special Envoy, Prakash Shah, to Baghdad. According to the Secretary-General, Shah would be sent with "a very firm message urging the Iraqis to change their position. ... The recent action by Iraq is a violation of Council resolutions and the agreement that they reached with me."
  • On 12 August, Butler informed the Security Council that UNSCOM was being forced to delay all planned inspections, due to the obstruction of the Iraqi authorities. Butler stated in a letter: "Iraq's actions bring to a halt all of the disarmament activities of the Commission and place limitations on the rights of the Commission to conduct its monitoring operations."
  • On 18 August, the Security Council transmitted letters to UNSCOM instructing them to proceed with inspections as it saw fit, and assuring it of full support and backing. The letters stated: "Iraq is obliged under the relevant...resolutions to provide [the] IAEA and UNSCOM with the cooperation necessary for them to undertake their activities, including inspections... You should continue to report to the Council on all occasions that you deem necessary."
  • On 20 August, the Security Council again denounced Iraq's position and decided to take no action towards the lifting of sanctions. China's deputy UN Ambassador, Shen Guofang, argued in the meeting for greater direct Security Council control over UNSCOM. Guofang told reporters after the meeting: "There is a lack of trust between UNSCOM and Iraq. The Council should exercise greater control of UNSCOM." The same day, Aziz issued a statement responding negatively to a 19 August letter from Butler asking Iraq to allow inspections to resume: "Butler and some elements in the Special Commission are not international employees, but serve the American policies to maintain the sanctions on Iraq by following its orders. ... We do not trust Butler and those who are controlling the Special Commission and we think that it is futile to work with them. ... The decision is final and will not be changed until the Security Council seriously, responsibly and fairly looks into Iraq's demands without American pressures. ... [The truth is that UNSCOM has] completed its task in the field of disarmament."
  • On 24 August, Special Envoy Prakash Shah returned empty-handed from Baghdad. Shah told reporters in New York: "Basically, they felt that since I had come there only with a message to comply and that I had no proposals to negotiate with them, they had no reason to change the decision taken 5 August."
  • On 25 August, Aziz sent, and released to reporters, letters to Annan and the Security Council President demanding Butler's removal as UNSCOM Chair: "It is regrettable to see [that] such flagrant behaviour by the Executive Chairman of the UN Special Commission is being repeated without any action being taken by you and the Security Council... Such behaviour contradicts morals of international personnel and it is a deliberate way of creating crises..." Aziz repeated his demands in similar letters addressed to the same men on 31 August.
Strains Within UNSCOM

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.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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