Related topics

Russia Indicates No Need for UNSCOM

January 15, 1999

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Russia suggested Friday that the U.N. weapons inspection program for Iraq was of no use and proposed an alternative system made up of outside experts.

The United States and Britain immediately rejected the proposal, saying the U.N. Special Commission and International Atomic Energy Agency should return to work, not be replaced.

The debate capped a week in the U.N. Security Council in which Russia, France, the United States, and Canada submitted proposals on the future of the oil embargo and arms inspections in Iraq in the wake of the U.S. and British airstrikes last month.

The U.N. weapons teams were withdrawn before the airstrikes, and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has said they may not return.

In an indication that long and acrimonious negotiations may be ahead, the council appeared no closer to any decision than a month ago. Talks may not resume before the end of the week, diplomats said.

The Russian proposal calls for a fresh assessment team to go to Iraq and report back to the council. The team would be made up of current inspectors but would include experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague, Netherlands.

The Russian proposal says the council should agree to a long-term arms monitoring program and lift the oil embargo imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. A new council committee would oversee the monitoring, and would ensure that Iraq wasn’t importing supplies to rebuild its weapons programs.

The proposal also says the International Atomic Energy Agency would continue monitoring Iraq’s nuclear weapons, but suggests that the Hague group monitor suspected chemical and biological sites.

That task has to date been carried out by the Special Commission, also known as UNSCOM, which was formed after the Gulf War in 1991 to search out and destroy Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. According to U.N. resolutions, the embargo cannot be lifted before the inspectors determine Iraq is free of the arms.

Russia has repeatedly criticized the work of UNSCOM and its executive chairman, Richard Butler. Moscow has said Butler’s report charging that Iraq wasn’t cooperating with inspectors was dishonest and intentionally negative in order to provoke the December airstrikes.

``UNSCOM in its present format obviously cannot any longer work in Iraq,″ the proposal says.

In Washington, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin criticized the Russian proposal Friday, insisting that ``we must have a disarmament and inspection system.″

Defending his proposal in closed council sessions, Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov said UNSCOM couldn’t be preserved, diplomats said.

``Revitalizing UNSCOM would be like revitalizing the Soviet Union,″ two council diplomats quoted Lavrov as saying _ comments that drew laughs throughout the council.

But outside the council, Deputy U.S. Ambassador Peter Burleigh said Washington rejected the idea outright, a position echoed inside the chamber by Britain and other nonpermanent members, council diplomats said.

``The question is how to get them back into Iraq so that they can help the council implement the resolutions in play,″ Burleigh said.

By next week, UNSCOM is expected to deliver an assessment of its nearly eight years of work in Iraq for the council to consider. U.N. officials said UNSCOM would also evaluate the prospects for a long-term monitoring program.

France’s proposal suggests that a new monitoring program be designed to prevent Iraq from acquiring new weapons. It calls for the lifting of the embargo.

The U.S. proposal suggests Iraq be allowed to sell all the oil it can _ as long as the proceeds go to buy food and medicine. Washington said Friday it would release half of the ``holds″ it has on spare parts contracts to improve Iraq’s oil infrastructure.

Baghdad has accused Washington of delaying approval of such contracts; Washington says it has only done so for parts that could be used to refine oil that may end up on the black market.

Iraqi Trade Minister Medhi Saleh on Friday criticized the U.S. proposal and demanded anew that all U.N. trade sanctions on the country be lifted.

``Iraq will not accept anything short of a comprehensive lifting of the unfair embargo,″ the minister said in a statement carried on the official Iraqi News Agency.

Canada has suggested the United Nations do an overall assessment of the humanitarian and disarmament elements before proceeding.

The council reaffirmed on Friday the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Kuwait, responding to an article by Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz that questioned its borders.

Update hourly