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– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
Security Council May Close Iraq Inspection Unit

Paul Kerr

The United States and other permanent members of the UN Security Council are drafting a resolution that would officially terminate the mission of UN inspectors tasked with verifying and monitoring Iraq’s disarmament, Ben Chang, a spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, told Arms Control Today May 22.

Speaking to reporters May 15, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. permanent representative to the UN, did not mention a resolution but did say that “the time has come to move to bring this to a close appropriately. And I believe that there is an emerging consensus to do that.”

The United States is working with the United Kingdom and other council members on a resolution, Chang said, adding that the process “is taking a while because there is a lot of complexity” surrounding the issue.

For example, numerous Security Council resolutions governing the question of Iraq’s disarmament remain in effect. Ewen Buchanan, a spokesperson for the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), pointed out in a May 21 interview with Arms Control Today that these resolutions contain restrictions, such as a prohibition on Iraqi missiles with ranges exceeding 150 kilometers, that the council must address.

Both U.S. and UNMOVIC officials explained that the Security Council also needs to decide the fate of the commission’s archives, which contain proliferation-sensitive material that could aid other countries in developing nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons.

After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the UN Security Council tasked the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), UNMOVIC’s predecessor, with verifying and supervising the destruction of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles exceeding UN-permitted ranges. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were charged with verifying and supervising the destruction of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. The UN withdrew the inspectors in December 1998, but they returned in November 2002 with Iraq’s consent. (See ACT, December 2002.)

The UN inspectors found no evidence that Iraq was pursuing illicit weapons programs but still had some unanswered questions about the country’s past weapons programs.

The inspectors left Iraq just before the U.S.-led March 2003 invasion. Since then, UNMOVIC, which includes staff in New York and teams of inspectors from UN member states, has remained on standby and has not been able to conduct in-country inspections.

At least one Security Council member still remains skeptical of the resolution. Russian Foreign Minister Aleksandr Yakovenko charged that a draft resolution “breaches established [Security Council] regulations,” according to a May 11 press account.

Yakovenko also stated that UNMOVIC and the IAEA should present a report to the council “on the state of affairs connected to disarmament programs in Iraq.” Acknowledging that neither organization is “in a position to do this on their own,” he suggested that the United States “officially present to the UN the findings of its own search teams.”

A U.S.-led postinvasion investigation found that Iraq did not have prohibited weapons programs. But the United States has never briefed the UN on the investigation’s classified findings, Buchanan said.

Yakovenko also argued that the problem of Iraqi illicit weapons “has acquired added acuity” because of the lack of security at Iraqi facilities that could be used to produce such weapons.

For its part, Iraq would like UNMOVIC’s mission to end. In an April 24 letter to the Security Council, Iraqi Foreign Minster Hoshyar Zebari reiterated Baghdad’s past requests that the council “terminate the mandate” of the UNMOVIC and IAEA inspectors. Zebari argued that their mission is no longer relevant because “there are no longer any legal or technical grounds for continuing their mandate” and because Iraq no longer has prohibited weapons or related programs.

Zebari’s letter also described several steps that Iraq has taken to provide assurance that it is not pursuing such weapons, including drafting a law that would permit Iraq to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Iraq declared in 2004 that it would accede to the convention. (See ACT, July/August 2006.)

He also wrote that “preparations are underway” for Iraq to ratify an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement. Such agreements, which are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, allow the agency to monitor non-nuclear-weapon states-parties’ declared nuclear activities. An additional protocol augments the agency’s ability to discover undeclared nuclear activities.