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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 31, October 1998

Gulf Widens Between Iraq & UN as VX Tests Suggest Iraqi Duplicity


Cooperative relations between Iraq and the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) investigating its weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programmes were effectively broken-off on 5 August when Iraq announced it would no longer permit inspections of new facilities by either UNSCOM or the IAEA. Iraq justified its decision by accusing UNSCOM of political bias, and duplicity in pretending that Iraq was still in non-compliance with UN Security Council resolution 687 (1991), under which it is obliged to cooperate in the complete disablement of all its WMD programmes. However, results from French and Swiss laboratories, revealed in late October, pointed to significant Iraqi duplicity concerning its claim that it never equipped warheads with the VX nerve agent.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis are revolving around the offer of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to conduct a 'comprehensive review' of Iraqi compliance if Iraq rescinds its 5 August decision. Until Iraq makes that move, the Security Council, under the terms of resolution 1194 (September 1998), has said it will refuse to review the issue of sanctions against Iraq.

VX Test Results Announced

On 26 October, following discussions at the UN on 22-23 October, a group of 17 experts, from 7 countries, submitted a report to the Security Council on the results of tests on Iraqi warhead fragments - retrieved in July by UNSCOM inspectors from an ammunition dump - conducted in laboratories in the United States, France and Switzerland. The tests were commissioned by the Security Council, and demanded by Iraq, in July, after the US announced that tests it had conducted at its Army Laboratory at Aberdeen, Maryland, in May had revealed VX traces in 11 of 46 samples.

According to the experts' report, the Swiss, and second round of US, tests showed no evidence of VX, but did reveal the presence of "certain non-chemical weapons related compounds" for which there was "no obvious explanation." Media reports speculated that these compounds had been added by Iraq to obscure VX traces. With regard to the fragments examined in France, the report stated that 1 out of the 40 samples revealed a "degradation product of a nerve agent." However, media reports suggested that French scientists regarded the finding as inconclusive, arguing that the 'product' could have been a VX trace, or a trace of two other nerve agents, sarin or soman, or of other chemical compounds, such as detergents. US scientists, asked to review the French results, apparently found conclusive evidence of VX traces. The report also confirmed the validity of the May tests in the US. The report concludes: "The existence of VX degradation products conflicts with Iraq's declarations that the unilaterally destroyed special warheads had never been filled with any chemical weapons agents... All analytical data provided by the three laboratories were again considered as conclusive and valid."

UNSCOM & IAEA Six-Monthly Reports

UNSCOM's latest six-monthly report was published on 6 October. The report summarises its own findings as follows: "It is suggested that three central facts emerge from the present report...: the disarmament phase of the Security Council's requirements is possibly near its end in the missile and chemical weapons areas but not yet in the biological weapons area; Iraq is permitting the monitoring work of the Commission to be exercised only at a less than satisfactory level, yet its development is vital to the future; and full disclosure by Iraq of all necessary materials and information remains the crucial ingredient for both an end to the disarmament process and future monitoring." Editor's note: the full text of the report (S/1998/920, 6 October) is available on the Internet at http://www.un.org/Depts/unscom/s98-920.htm

Progress on the nuclear 'file' was reviewed in the six-monthly report of the IAEA, forwarded to the Security Council by Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei on 7 October. According to an IAEA summary:

"The IAEA's report reaffirms its belief that it has a coherent picture of Iraq's clandestine nuclear programme, based on all credible information available to date. The report further states that the IAEA has found no indication of Iraq having achieved its programme goal of producing nuclear weapons, or of Iraq having retained a physical capability for the production of weapon-usable nuclear material or having clandestinely obtained such material.

At the same time, the IAEA points out the limitations inherent in a countrywide verification process and consequently its inability to guarantee that all readily concealable items have been found. ... Nevertheless, full implementation of the on-going monitoring and verification (OMV) plan in Iraq, based on full and free access, would enable the IAEA to provide assurance against revival of Iraq's clandestine programme... Iraq's 5 August suspension of co-operation has prevented the IAEA from exercising full and free access. ... [A]s a result, the level of assurance the IAEA can give that prohibited activities are not taking place...is significantly reduced."

The Security Council considered both reports on 13 October. In an informal statement to the press following the meeting, Council President Jeremy Greenstock of Britain noted: "On the IAEA report, members of the Council noted that the report stated that should Iraq recommence full cooperation...there would be no impediment to the full implementation of the IAEA's plan for on-going monitoring and verification which must be comprehensive and intrusive. On the UNSCOM report, members of the Council focused on the need for Iraq to resume full cooperation if progress was to be made..."

Discussions to Break the Impasse

On 5 October, Secretary-General Annan briefed the Security Council on his 'comprehensive review' proposal. Some reports suggested that Annan was seeking to mandate UNSCOM to prove that Iraq had not complied with UN resolutions, rather than Iraq being required to prove that it had. This interpretation was strongly denied by Annan's spokesperson in an 8 October statement:

"Several press reports in the last few days have attributed to the Secretary-General a proposal that...UNSCOM...should be required to prove that Iraq still has weapons of mass destruction. This is inaccurate. What the Secretary-General has done is suggest a possible concept for the comprehensive review of Iraq's compliance, which the Security Council in its resolution 1194 (1998) decided to conduct if and when Iraq has rescinded its decision of 5 August... The Secretary-General's proposal envisages that all relevant evidence of non-fulfilment by Iraq...would be placed before the Council, so that the Council can determine what Iraq still needs to do to fulfil...resolution 687 (1991) - the letter and spirit of which, of course, remain unchanged."

UN and Iraqi officials, headed by Annan and Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, discussed the crisis for 10 days in late September and early October. The talks ended without any sign of a breakthrough on 7 October. According to Annan's spokesperson: "both sides agreed that the process of dialogue would continue." According to Aziz: "We are going to weigh the situation in its entirety in Baghdad." On 13 October, Iraq announced that it was delaying a decision on possible resumption of cooperation - no indication was given by the authorities as to when a decision might be made.

On 15 October, it was reported that Iraq was refusing to hand over a document, first discovered by UNSCOM inspectors in July, relating to types of delivery systems which may have carried chemical or biological munitions. According to Iraq's UN Ambassador, Nizar Hamdoon, the document is "irrelevant to the work of disarmament", although he added: "in the context of the comprehensive review, this document could be used in a way that could help to clarify that matter."

Editor's note: on 31 October, Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council issued a statement announcing that it had "decided to halt all kinds of dealings with the Special Commission and its Chief and stop all their activities inside Iraq, including the monitoring, starting from today." The move came after a 30 October decision by the Security Council to conduct a review of Iraq's compliance with UN resolutions - a decision criticised by Iraq as not providing a guarantee that sanctions would soon be lifted. See next issue for details and reaction.

Reports: Annan briefs UN on Iraq, Associated Press, 5 October; United Nations Special Commission - Six-monthly report, United Nations Document S/1998/920, 6 October; Iraq probe could be near end on ballistic missiles, Reuters, 6 October; Iraq close to meeting arms demands but gap remains, Reuters, 6 October; Annan outlines comprehensive review of Iraqi actions, United States Information Service, 6 October; No agreement over Iraq inspection, Associated Press, 7 October; IAEA submits six-monthly progress report on its verification activities in Iraq, IAEA Press Release PR 98/24, 7 October; Secretary-General suggests concept for comprehensive review of Iraqi compliance with Security Council Resolution 687 (1991), United Nations Press Release SG/SM/6737, 8 October; Iraq delays action on cooperation, Associated Press, 13 October; Iraqi document at issue at UN, Associated Press, 15 October; Iraq queried by UN Council on 'missing' document, Reuters, 15 October; Lab - nerve agent on Iraqi warhead, Associated Press, 26 October; Experts confirm VX gas findings in Iraq, Reuters, 27 October; New Iraqi nerve gas analysis doesn't end dispute, Reuters, 27 October.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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