By Howard Diamond
Having received conflicting progress reports from the two organizations monitoring Iraq's UN-imposed disarmament, the UN Security Council on April 28 voted to maintain sanctions on Baghdad for an additional six months because of its failure to fully comply with its obligations.
Authored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), the reports paint contradictory pictures of Iraq's cooperation in eliminating its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missile capabilities proscribed by the UN Security Council under the cease-fire resolution that ended the 1991 Gulf War.
Following the release of the biannual reports in mid-April and briefings by weapons inspectors, Russia, France and China have urged the Security Council to recognize the completion of Iraq's nuclear disarmament and to change the IAEA's mandate from active investigation to long-term monitoring, a move opposed by the United States.
"[T]here appears to be some progress in the nuclear file, but we believe that it is premature to totally close that file without further steps being taken specifically regarding nuclear enrichment, design and nuclear exports," said Bill Richardson, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
The IAEA's report describes a pattern of reluctant but adequate cooperation that has allowed the agency's inspectors to conclude that all of Iraq's nuclear materials and relevant technology have been accounted for satisfactorily. Pointing to the completion in March of inspections at Iraq's presidential sites, the existence of an ongoing monitoring and verification system to prevent misuse of remaining equipment and materials, and a "technically coherent" declaration by Iraq of its previous clandestine nuclear weapons program, the IAEA concluded that further investigation into Baghdad's nuclear past has reached the point of diminishing returns. While mentioning some lingering concerns about Iraq's post-war efforts to conceal its nuclear weapons program and procurement efforts to support it, the agency indicated that intrusive long-term monitoring should be the focus of its future efforts.
In contrast, the April 16 UNSCOM report claims that in light of the four-month inspections crisis beginning in November 1997 and Baghdad's continued policy of obstruction and delay, UN inspectors can claim almost no progress in the missile, biological or chemical areas. UNSCOM's efforts have focused on uncovering the extent of Iraq's production of special (chemical and biological) missile warheads, holdings of missile propellants, chemical weapons precursors, biological agent growth media, and other proscribed weapons production equipment and materials. Determining Iraq's indigenous production capability for missile components also remains on UNSCOM's agenda.
Iraq claims to have completely divested itself of prohibited items, either by turning them over to UNSCOM or by unilaterally destroying them. But UNSCOM insists that Baghdad provide evidence to support its claims, and maintains that without proof UN inspectors cannot inform the Security Council that Iraq has fulfilled its obligations. In the report, UNSCOM Executive Chairman Richard Butler wrote, "In contrast with the prior [six-month] reporting period, virtually no progress in verifying disarmament has been able to be reported."
During an April 26 briefing to the Security Council, Butler introduced new evidence calling into question Baghdad's disarmament claim. In March, over Iraqi opposition, UNSCOM tested four 155-millimeter artillery shells recovered in Iraq in 1996. The shells contained viscous mustard agent that UNSCOM determined to be 94 to 97 percent pure. Iraq, which has failed to account for 500 to 700 similar shells, had previously argued that even if these weapons still existed, the shells would have degraded or the chemical agent would have hardened to the point of uselessness.
In response to UNSCOM's negative assessment, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz wrote a letter April 22 to the president of the Security Council protesting the report's "large volume of tremendous and flagrant fallacies and lies" and UNSCOM's "unjust" methodology. UNSCOM, Aziz wrote, should be required to provide evidence showing Iraq has not fulfilled its obligations instead of Baghdad having to prove that it has fully complied. Reiterating Iraq's claim that it has already eliminated all of its proscribed weapons, Aziz demanded the Security Council immediately lift the sanctions "without any restrictions or conditions."
Iraq has protested that the UN sanctions have devastated its population despite the UN-approved exception that allows Baghdad to sell billions of dollars worth of oil to purchase food and medicine for civilians. Iraq refused to participate in the "oil-for-food" program until December 1996.
On February 20, in the midst of the "presidential sites" crisis, the Security Council increased the annual oil sales limit from $4 billion to $10 billion to address the plight of Iraqi civilians. Iraq has said its annual production capability is currently limited to $8 billion. On April 15, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked the Security Council to allow Iraq to spend $300 million to restore parts of its oil production capability.