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Analysis: Saddam Hussein Wins Goal

November 14, 1997

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ One of Saddam Hussein’s goals in his growing conflict with the United Nations has been to weaken the authority of U.N. inspectors who keep tabs on Baghdad’s weapons programs.

Now, some U.N. diplomats fear the United Nations may have played into Iraq’s hands by withdrawing all its inspectors in solidarity with the Americans, who were expelled to Jordan.

For the first time since the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, Iraq is virtually free of U.N. arms inspectors. And the price for getting them back into Iraq could be high.

Iraq’s foreign minister, Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf, hinted at those conditions Friday in Baghdad, saying it was ``time for the members of the Security Council to start a re-examination of American rhetoric.″

That means renegotiating an inspection program based on Iraq’s terms, which include an end to ``American domination″ of the commission.

That prospect has alarmed Security Council members, including those staunchly opposed to using force against Iraq.

U.N. diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said questions about the wisdom of pulling the entire team from Baghdad overshadowed discussions Thursday night on a U.S.-sponsored statement condemning Iraq for forcing the Americans to leave.

Costa Rican, French, Swedish and Russian diplomats have all privately grumbled that withdrawing the team endangers the entire monitoring program.

Since 1991, the U.N. team has performed weapons inspections and monitored sites that could be used to manufacture chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

It must certify that Iraq has destroyed all such weapons before the council will lift crippling economic sanctions imposed in 1990 after Saddam invaded Kuwait.

Iraq claims it has complied but says the Americans are manipulating the monitors to withhold certification. The United Nations denies those allegations.

The issue goes beyond the question of how many monitors are American.

Since 1991, the U.N. team has drawn conclusions about Iraqi compliance that are in line with those of the United States and Britain _ that Iraq is still concealing banned materials and has not come clean on its weapons programs.

The monitors say Iraq’s civilian fertilizer plants could be transformed quickly into chemical weapons factories. U.N. surveillance cameras make sure the plants are not producing weapons.

Iraq insists it has destroyed its chemical arsenal and therefore has met the U.N. conditions.

Iraqi officials say they want the Security Council to play a greater role in managing and supervising the weapons inspectors. That means a commission that shares the opinions of Paris, Moscow and Cairo _ that Iraq is slowly making progress in dismantling its weapons programs.

No council member believes that Iraq is in full compliance _ but sharp differences in opinion have emerged.

Last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iraq’s nuclear program had been effectively dismantled. But the director, Hans Blix, said the IAEA could not certify compliance because ``it’s not impossible that some equipment might be undetected.″

U.N. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say Iraqi researchers may be using laptop computers to continue proscribed research. The officials admitted they had found no one doing so.

The critical question is whether certification should be withheld as long as a possibility exists that illegal weapons programs could be revived.

The answer depends on whether Saddam Hussein is to be trusted. For Washington, the answer is a clear ``No.″

But France, Russia, China, Egypt and other countries are less anxious to maintain sanctions as long as Saddam remains in power. They have all negotiated lucrative trade deals with the Iraqis to take effect as soon as sanctions are lifted.

And Egypt and other Arab states fear that public opinion in their own countries will demand an end to sanctions because of the suffering of the Iraqi people.

In the meantime, the longer the inspections are put on hold, the less information on Iraqi arms the world will have to work with.

___

EDITORS: Robert H. Reid is the chief U.N. correspondent for The Associated Press.

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