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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 43, January - February 2000

UN Appoints Head of New Iraq Commission; Senior UN Officials Quit Over Impact of Iraqi Sanctions

On January 27, the UN Security Council unanimously approved the appointment of Hans Blix of Sweden, former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to head the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) acrimoniously set up by the Council in December to replace the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) charged with verifying the effective termination of Iraqi weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programmes, a task it was unable to proceed with after Iraqi non-cooperation led to massive US-British air strikes in December 1998. As reported in the last issue, China, France and Russia abstained on resolution 1284 creating UNMOVIC, although they now expect Iraq to allow the new regime to begin work - something Baghdad has been clear it has no intention of doing, calling instead for an immediate and unconditional lifting of sanctions.

France nominated Blix after it, China and Russia rejected the Secretary-General's original nomination, put forward on January 17, of former UNSCOM Executive Chairman Rolf Ekeus of Sweden. America and Britain enthusiastically endorsed the choice, but Russia's UN Ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, wrote an immediate letter to Annan declaring Moscow's opposition. As Lavrov told Reuters (January 17): "[W]e need a new beginning and not an old ending. … To implement this resolution you need cooperation from Iraq." On January 18, Lavrov's words were echoed by French Ambassador Alain Dejammet: "We wanted a new body and a new body means of course a new person in charge." China, too, expressed its "difficulty" with the nomination.

Speaking to the press in Stockholm on February 5, Blix shared his thoughts about his new role: "There is some emphasis here toward amore UN operation… We will never be able to certify that not even the smallest items, the smallest capacity, remain[s] in a large country… UNMOVIC, the IAEA and the Security Council will have to wrestle with that…The inspectors cannot shoot their way to any sites. If they are not admitted, the response will have to come through the United Nations. … I have no magic formula to apply, but I know that some things are and remain essential… A Security Council where the members are united has considerable influence and power."

Iraq has quickly made clear that the appointment changes nothing. On January 27, Deputy Foreign Minister Nizar Hamdoon told reporters: "The matter is more complicated than the issue of Blix or the naming of a new Commission… [He] may be a compromise candidate for Security Council members, but Iraq is not concerned with the compromise… We have major reservations on the resolution of the Security Council, its conditions and its ambiguity…" On February 10, Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan was quoted as telling visiting Russian envoy Nikolai Kartuzov: "There shall be no return of the so-called inspection teams. We reject the infiltration by spies using such cover…"

Despite the profound impasse, Iraq did allow an IAEA verification mission into the country from January 22-25 to perform a routine physical inventory of nuclear material at Tuwaitha. According to an Agency press release (January 25), this limited mission "cannot serve as a substitute for the IAEA's activities under the relevant Security Council resolutions… In this respect the Agency looks forward to resuming its inspection activities in Iraq under these resolutions… in accordance with the Agency's plan for ongoing monitoring and verification."

In mid-February, two senior officials entrusted with overseeing UN humanitarian efforts in Iraq, resigned their positions in protest at the ongoing, severe civilian suffering caused by sanctions. On February 13, Hans von Sponeck of Germany, the co-ordinator of UN humanitarian programmes in Iraq, announced his intention to stand down; on February 15, Jutta Burghardt of Germany, head of the UN World Food Programme in Iraq, followed suit. Von Sponeck - whose predecessor, Denis Halliday of Ireland, resigned for similar reasons in 1998 - spoke about his decision to reporters on February 15: " [E]veryone here in the UN is concerned over the inadequacy of the performance of the oil-for-food programme… So I'm not at all alone in my view that we have reached a point where it is no longer acceptable that we are keeping our mouths shut. Our support, my support, my commitment is for the Iraqi people as a group of deprived people whose tragedy should end. … I do not think it is fair to make the civilian population subject to bargaining…by the Government of Iraq on the one hand and [on the] other [by] the Security Council… The real victims are those who walk the streets of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul. …" Concerning the UN's December resolution establishing UNMOVIC, von Sponeck stated: "I do not think this resolution has a chance to come to fruition very quickly… [E]ven if that happens, I do not think that this is enough." Speaking on February 16, Burghardt argued that von Sponeck's analysis "cannot be challenged by anybody who has a perceptive mind and heart."

Also on February 15, 70 members of the US Congress wrote to President Clinton urging him to lift sanctions. The bipartisan appeal stated: "[W]hile we have no illusions about the brutality of Saddam Hussein, the people of Iraq should be allowed to restore their economic system… [D]o what is right: lift the economic sanctions. More than nine years after the most comprehensive economic embargo imposed in modern history has failed to remove Saddam Hussein from power or even ensure his compliance with his international obligations, while the economy and people of Iraq continue to suffer… Morally, it is wrong to hold the Iraqi people responsible for the actions of a brutal and reckless Government…"

Reports: Annan nominates Ekeus to head Iraq arms body, Reuters, January 17; Russia rejects UN's Iraq inspector, Associated Press, January 17; Russia nixes UN Chief's choice of Ekeus for Iraq, Reuters, January 17; China joins Russia in UN objection, Associated Press, January 18; France, China, Russia object to Ekeus for Iraq, Reuters, January 18; IAEA inspectors conclude nuclear materials inspection in Iraq, IAEA Press Release PR 2000/03, January 25; UN reaches deal on Iraq arms chief, Associated Press, January 27; Iraq rejects new UN arms chief, BBC News Online, January 27; Secretary-General appoints Hans Blix of Sweden Executive Chairman of UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, United Nations Press Release SG/A/721, January 27; Iraq - no dealings with UN inspector, Associated Press, January 27; New lead inspector won't be swayed, Associated Press, February 5; Security Council briefed on Iraq oil-for-food programme, United Nations News, February 7; Top UN official urges end to Iraq trade sanctions, Reuters, February 8; Iraq - arms monitors won't return, Associated Press, February 10; UN officer asks to leave Iraq job, Associated Press, February 13; Iraq UN resolution criticized, Associated Press, February 15; UN humanitarian official in Iraq resigns in protest to sanctions, Arabic News, February 15; Second UN aide in Iraq resigns in protest, Reuters, February 15; 70 US lawmakers call for end to Iraq sanctions, Agence France Presse, February 15; UN official quits over impasse, Associated Press, February 16; UN aide who quit in protest plans report on airstrikes on Iraq, Washington Post, February 17.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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