American-Led UN Team Stays Behind
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ While some weapons inspectors were out searching today for banned Iraqi weapons material, the American-led team that was blocked by Iraq twice this week stayed behind awaiting instructions from U.N. headquarters in New York.
Iraq has accused the leader of the second team, former U.S. Marine Scott Ritter, of espionage and says the makeup of his team is too heavily weighted with Americans and Britons. It refused to give his team Iraqi escorts on Tuesday and Wednesday, effectively blocking its work.
``All the teams are out except Ritter’s,″ said Nils Carlstrom, head of the U.N. inspection office in Baghdad. ``We are waiting (for) orders from New York.″
Ritter heads a team that was trying to uncover Iraqi methods of concealing banned weapons and documents. His no-notice inspections were said to have surprised Iraqi officials several times.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council adopted a statement Wednesday deploring the blocking of Ritter’s team and ``Iraq’s subsequent failure to fulfill its obligations to provide the (inspectors) with full, unconditional and immediate access to all sites.″
Iraqi officials who escort arms inspectors said Ritter had not informed them that he would be carrying out inspections today.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said Wednesday that Iraq would not allow Ritter to resume inspections unless his team was reshaped to include more inspectors from other countries.
In an attempt to end the standoff and blunt Iraqi criticisms, chief inspector Richard Butler hired three Chinese weapons experts on Wednesday.
China appealed to Iraq today to cooperate with weapons inspections, but Foreign Ministry spokesman Shen Guofang also said in Beijing that ``legitimate concerns of Iraq as a sovereign state should be respected.″
China, a permanent member of the Security Council, has kept a low profile in previous confrontations between Iraq, a diplomatic ally, and the United Nations over sanctions the U.N. imposed for Baghdad’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which led to the Persian Gulf War.
Iraqi newspapers lashed out at Ritter today, with the official al-Qadissiya newspaper said the inspector was ``the intelligence man ready to implement American orders.″ Al-Thawra, the newspaper of the ruling Baath Party, said Ritter was in Baghdad to ``fabricate a new crisis.″
Iraq has accused Ritter of trying to find evidence that Baghdad tested chemical and biological agents on prisoners.
U.N. reports have said that Iraq tested biological toxins on animals, including sheep, donkeys, monkeys and dogs.
Aziz dismissed reports that Iraq had tested chemical and biological agents on prisoners in the summer of 1995.
``Never. It is a sheer lie,″ he said.
Aziz only gave vague answers when asked if Iraq would throw out American inspectors like it did last year or carry out threats to fire on the U-2 spy planes that the United Nations uses.
``We are not against the Americans, we only want to have balanced teams,″ he said.
U.N. inspectors must certify that Iraq has eliminated its weapons of mass destruction before the U.N. trade sanctions can be lifted.
Defense Secretary William Cohen, traveling in Asia this week, said President Clinton remains focused on diplomatic options to end the latest standoff.
``Any consideration of questions surrounding use of force are premature and hypothetical at this point,″ Cohen said today in Singapore. Should Clinton choose to use force, Cohen said he was confident that gulf allies would ``help the United States.″
``We have not reached that point yet,″ he added.
In related events today:
_The latest tension has taken a toll on the Iraqi currency, with the dinar dropping to 1,650 to the dollar from 1,550 prior to the impasse.
_Three Americans began what they said would be a three-day hunger strike outside arms monitors’ Baghdad headquarters to protest the U.N. sanctions.
``We are fasting as a sign of sorrow and mourning for the harm inflicted on Iraqi people by these sanctions,″ John Heid, 43, of Duluth, Minn., said. Heid is a member of Chicago-based ``Voices in the Wilderness,″ which has visited Iraq 11 times despite State Department bans.