Unlike previous confrontations with Iraq, the Clinton administration—though claiming that force remains an option—has backed away from the threats to compel Iraq's compliance that had stood as U.S. policy since 1991. The United States is seeking to shift responsibility for dealing with Iraq's defiant behavior back to the Security Council, and onto those states—chiefly France, Russia and China—that have argued Iraq's case in the past. As deputy national security advisor James Steinberg said on September 4, Washington's goal is "to be in a posture where it is clear that what Saddam is doing is challenging not just the United States, but the entire international community."
Weapons Inspector Resigns
Drawing additional international attention to the situation in Iraq was the public resignation of William S. "Scott" Ritter, Jr., previously chief of UNSCOM's investigations into Iraq's proscribed weapons concealment activities, on August 26. In an angry letter to Richard Butler, executive chairman of UNSCOM, Ritter denounced the Security Council's refusal to enforce its resolutions against Iraq and condemned Secretary-General Kofi Annan for allowing his "grand office" to be used "as a sounding board for Iraqi grievances, real or imagined."
The day after Ritter's resignation, The Washington Post cited "American and diplomatic sources" who claimed that on at least six occasions beginning in November 1997, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright or other top U.S. officials contacted Butler to prevent scheduled inspections from going forward. The Washington Post also claimed that in March 1998, after Butler rejected Albright's suggestion to remove Ritter from upcoming inspections, Washington and London "withdrew crucial elements of the intelligence support that allowed the special commission to observe Iraqi concealment efforts as they happened during surprise inspections." According to Ritter, Albright called Butler twice to avert inspections Ritter was leading to uncover "illegally retained ballistic missiles" and "management of Iraq's concealment program by a member of Saddam Hussein's personal staff."
While acknowledging discussions on "timing and tactics," Albright and other U.S. officials have strongly rejected claims that they tried to tell Butler "how to do his job" and insist that Washington remains UNSCOM's strongest backer. Butler has also maintained that while he consults regularly with all members of the Security Council, none has "crossed the line" from making policy into running operations, which he claims is his exclusive domain. On September 9, Butler told The New York Times that "Scott Ritter's chronology of events is not accurate," but declined to give further details. (The FBI is reportedly investigating charges that Ritter improperly exchanged intelligence with other nations while at UNSCOM, a claim Ritter denies.)
Following his resignation, Ritter publicly warned that Iraq could reconstruct its chemical, biological and ballistic missile programs in six months or less and charged that Iraq already possesses three complete nuclear devices that lack only their fissile material cores. Ritter also claimed that Baghdad has used the UN-supervised oil-for-food program to smuggle proscribed and dual-use materials. In his last report to the Security Council on July 27, IAEA Director General Mohammed ElBaradei noted that, while the agency is confident Iraq had no "physical capability for the indigenous production" of fissile materials, "direct acquisition of weapon-usable nuclear material would present a severe technical challenge" to the IAEA's ongoing monitoring and verification efforts.
On September 3, Butler briefed the Security Council on Iraqi interference with UNSCOM's continuing monitoring activities, which are carried out at some 300 sites within Iraq. According to Butler, since August 5 Baghdad has refused to provide access to equipment and information related to its potentially illegal Al Samoud missile program and has blocked access to previously visited areas by claiming they are either "military sites" or not "declared sites" for monitoring.
In the face of Baghdad's continuing defiance, the Security Council's attention has turned to the issue of the comprehensive review allowed for in the September 9 resolution. Member-states are now waiting to hear Annan's views regarding the purpose and scope of the review, which is favored by Iraq's supporters as a means of drawing attention to the extent to which Iraq has already been disarmed.