By Howard Diamond
Efforts to lift the international economic sanctions on Iraq picked up momentum in May, with the UN Security Council adopting two decisions based on Baghdad's recent cooperation with UN-mandated efforts to eliminate its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles. On May 7, a never-implemented travel ban on Iraqi officials imposed in November 1997 was lifted, and a week later, the Security Council issued a statement setting the terms for closing investigations into Iraq's clandestine nuclear weapons program by the end of July.
The future of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) inquiry into Iraq's covert nuclear weapons program has been in question since the agency made its last biannual report to the Security Council in April. Stating that inspectors had found "no indication of prohibited equipment, materials or activities" in the last six months, the agency recommended shifting its efforts to a long-term intrusive monitoring program. Russian, French and Chinese diplomats have used the April report to justify their efforts to close the "nuclear file." The United States and Britain have resisted these attempts, however, citing unanswered questions about Iraq's success in weapons design, uranium enrichment options, and post-Gulf War nuclear procurement and concealment activities.
U.S. and Russian diplomats reportedly agreed to a compromise on the nuclear issue on May 12. Subsequently, the president of the Security Council issued a statement May 14 that would allow the IAEA to switch over to long-term monitoring if it can provide answers to the remaining nuclear questions in a special July status report, or in its next biannual report due in October. Washington's hard-line approach to Iraq's UN-mandated disarmament has been increasingly under attack from other Security Council members eager to reintegrate Iraq into the international community.
As part of the deal on the nuclear issue, The New York Times reported on May 14, that UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) Executive Director Richard Butler will be asked to give the Security Council a "technical briefing" on June 3. Security Council members sympathetic to Iraq expect him to explain what steps must be taken by Baghdad in order to wrap up UNSCOM's investigations in the chemical, biological and ballistic missile areas. Speaking to reporters in Australia on May 26, Butler said he would provide Iraq with a "road map" for compliance, and reiterated that if Baghdad cooperated fully, UNSCOM's work could be completed by October. Butler also promised to show the Security Council photographs taken by U.S. U-2 reconnaissance aircraft showing that Iraq has not fully divested itself of proscribed weapons, contrary to Baghdad's assertions.
As an additional part of the deal, UNSCOM will also be adding in July a former Russian Foreign Ministry official, Nikita Zhukov, as a political advisor. UNSCOM added a French political advisor in February. Russia's UN representative, Ambassador Sergei Lavrov, reportedly tried to have a Russian named as a deputy director equal to current Deputy Charles Duelfer of the United States. Faced with unshakable U.S. refusal, Lavrov settled for the advisory position.
Previously, in a May 7 letter to the Security Council, Butler reported that Baghdad had met the Security Council's requirement to provide "immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to any and all areas, facilities, equipment, records and means of transportation" required for inspections. Consequently, the travel ban, instituted after Baghdad ejected American UNSCOM inspectors in November 1997, was voided without ever having taken effect. The ban applied to Iraqi officials who had obstructed inspections.