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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 14, April 1997

The Iraq-UNSCOM Dispute: latest Skirmishes in War of Words

On 3 March, the UN Security Council confirmed the latest renewal of sanctions against Iraq. The sanctions, in place since 1990 and reconfirmed by the Council every 60 days, are set to remain until the Council is satisfied that Iraq's alleged weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programmes have been effectively disabled, and are unlikely to be reconstituted. According to US Ambassador Bill Richardson (3 March), getting Iraq to comply with the demands of the sanctions resolutions "is like pulling teeth from somebody who doesn't want to open up his mouth."

After addressing the Council on 3 March, Rolf Ekeus, the Chair of UNSCOM - the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq - told reporters that Iraq had yet to produce "documentation about the secret destruction it has carried out and access to personnel involved so we can interview them. And it has [yet] to hand over the remnants of its weapons capability. ... They have given us the sites in the sand where destruction was to have taken place, but it is impossible to see if that responds to what we know Iraq has acquired."

Ekeus also noted that Iraq had declared, in October 1996, that it had produced 8,377 pounds (3,800 kilograms) of the VX nerve gas used in chemical weapons. Following this declaration, Ekeus recalled:

"Iraq [said] that the quantity was so low it was not worth much because it quickly deteriorates. And then it said it [had] quickly destroyed the results of this in secrecy instead of handing it over to our inspectors..." Referring to rumours of his imminent resignation (see Editor's note, below), Ekeus added: "I am always looking for the moment when I can leave this job but I am still hanging in there."

On 13 March, Iraq's Minister of Information and Culture, Hamed Yussef Hammadi, voiced strong criticism of Ekeus. Speaking in Jordan, Hammadi argued:

"The method followed by Mr. Ekeus is not bringing his mission to an end but prolonging the duration of the blockade imposed by the United Nations against Iraq."

On 8 March, UNSCOM spokesperson Roger Knight confirmed that Iraqi missile parts had been shipped out the country for inspection in the United States; a destination long objected to by the Iraqi government. The international team of inspectors, working at a military laboratory in Huntsville, Alabama, will attempt to determine whether the original, Russian-made missile engines were removed, to evade detection, and replaced by lesser quality Iraqi material.

On 26 March, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, addressing an audience at Georgetown University in Washington, warned of the basic, potential threat still posed by Iraq:

"Containment has worked, but - despite Iraq's present weakness - the future threat has not been erased... [We will never] allow the scorpion that bit us once to bite us again. ... [Iraq] retains more than 7,500 nuclear scientists and technicians, as well as the technical documents related to the production of nuclear weapons. ... [And it is] highly likely that Iraq retains an operational Scud missile force..."

Editor's note: on 1 May, ir was announced that Ambassador Ekeus would be succeeded as Chair of UNSCOM by Sir Richard Butler, Australia's Ambassador to the UN. The announcement was made in the following statement released by the office of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annam (Press Release SG/SM/6228):

"The Secretary-General has accepted with regret the resignation of Rolf Ekeus from the post of Executive Chairman of the United Nations Special Commission. Ambassador Ekeus, who has held the post since the Commission was set up by the Security Council in 1991, is to return to the service of his Government.

The Secretary-General wishes to pay high tribute to the work of Ambassador Ekeus. He has handled a very delicate mission with skill and has made substantial progress in implementing an especially difficult mandate with determination and objectivity.

The Secretary-General has appointed Richard Butler to succeed Ambassador Ekeus with effect from 1 July. The intervening two-month period will leave time for a smooth transition.

Ambassador Butler will bring to the post personal dynamism and wide experience in diplomacy, and in particular in the complex field of disarmament.

Ambassador Butler is currently Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations."

Reports: Iraq admits chemical weapons - UN sanctions stay, Reuter News Reports, 3 March; UN - US inspecting Iraq missiles, AP International News Wire, 8 March; Iraqi minister rails against UN disarmament chief, Agence France-Presse International News, 14 March; Albright - don't ease up on Iraq, AP Washington News Wire, 26 March.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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