Iraq No Longer a Military Threat, Says U.N. Weapons Inspector
AMMAN, Jordan (AP) _ The United Nations’ chief arms inspector asserted Wednesday that Iraq no longer poses a regional military threat, but said he remained wary of Iraq’s claims to have destroyed all its weapons of mass destruction.
Rolf Ekeus, head of the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq, said he received information on Iraqi weapons programs from a defector, Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel al-Majid, in a two-hour meeting Monday. He declined to give details.
Al-Majid, a son-in-law of Saddam Hussein and the architect of Iraq’s clandestine network to acquire weapons of mass destruction in the 1980s, defected to Jordan on Aug. 8, threatening to divulge all he knew to U.N. experts.
Ekeus told a news conference Wednesday that the Baghdad regime has promised him ``100 percent implementation″ of the terms of the cease-fire resolution that halted the 1991 Gulf War.
If Iraq makes good on that promise, the U.N. Security Council would have to consider lifting the oil and trade embargo imposed on Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in August 1990.
Ekeus visited Baghdad and Amman over the past week, after al-Majid’s threat prompted the Iraqi regime to hand over more information.
``I don’t think that Iraq could constitute a threat to the region,″ Ekeus said before leaving Jordan Wednesday. He said Iraq could no longer strike its neighbors with chemical weapons or long-range missiles.
But, he cautioned, the United Nations must verify the biological weapons data.
``We must verify these statements. We cannot take it at face value. Every time we’ve done that before, we’ve been misled,″ Ekeus said.
In Washington, State Department spokesman David Johnson concurred.
``Iraq must demonstrate its peaceful intentions by complying with all its obligations,″ he said, including accounting for those missing or killed in the invasion of Kuwait, returning property seized there, and ending its involvement in terrorism.
``Iraq has yet to fulfill any of these obligations,″ Johnson said.
At the United Nations on Wednesday, Tim Trevan, a spokesman for the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq, said Iraq apparently admitted it had biological weapons agents _ botulism and anthrax _ while the Gulf War was being waged and that they weren’t destroyed until July 1991. Iraq had earlier maintained that the agents were destroyed in October 1990, about two months before the start of the war.
U.N. investigators suspect Iraq had even tested some weapon delivery systems, he said.
The New York Times on Wednesday quoted officials of Ekeus’ team as saying the documents received from Baghdad included confirmation that Iraq also was continuing nuclear research, apparently trying to enrich uranium for weapons.
Ekeus, who plans to return to Baghdad in September, declined to say how al-Majid’s testimony compared to the latest disclosures from Baghdad.
However, he said he would try to ``put the Security Council in a position to take the necessary decision″ on the Iraqi sanctions.
Iraq on Wednesday denied claims by al-Majid that Saddam Hussein had plans to invade Iraq’s neighbors.
Al-Majid told The Associated Press on Sunday that Iraq was planning to attack Saudi Arabia and Kuwait this month and that his defection foiled the plan.
Al-Majid ``has to fabricate all kinds of lies to defend himself,″ Iraqi Information Minister Hamed Youssef Hammadi told the AP.
Despite being held responsible for some of the Iraq’s most severe repression, al-Majid and his cohorts are depicting themselves as the new champions of the struggle to topple Saddam’s government.