09 March 1998
(Visits expected to begin in two weeks) (1020) By Judy Aita USIA United Nations Correspondent United Nations -- A special group of observers, which could include US and British diplomats, will begin visiting eight presidential sites in Iraq as part of the UN Special Commission overseeing the destruction of Iraqi weapons (UNSCOM) teams in about two weeks, senior UN officials said March 9. UN Undersecretary General Jayantha Dhanapala, who is the special UNSCOM commissioner coordinating the diplomatic observers, has sent letters to UN member nations inviting them to nominate senior diplomats already based in Baghdad or in the region who would be able to join the UNSCOM weapons experts. Dhanapala and UNSCOM Chairman Richard Butler have also given the Security Council March 9 a seven-page report detailing the procedures that the special teams to the so-called presidential sites will use. "They are good procedures which will enable us first and foremost to implement Security Council resolutions. They will enable us to ensure that the memorandum of understanding is implemented in both letter and spirit and that we can ensure that the diplomatic solution crafted by the Secretary General will, in fact, stick," said one senior UN official. The procedures are "simple and they are unambiguous. They will enable us to do the substantive work of UNSCOM and the IAEA and will do so in such a way that ensures both sides comport themselves with dignity and give full respect to the sovereignty and security concerns of Iraq," said another UN official. Both senior UN officials spoke with journalists about the new procedures and the upcoming inspections on the condition of anonymity. The two officials explained that the procedures translate the memorandum of understanding agreed to by Secretary General Kofi Annan and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein into "practical reality" that will enable the inspections to begin in a couple of weeks. On his special diplomatic mission February 21-23 Annan worked out a "memorandum of understanding" with the Iraqi president that states Iraq's agreement to allow weapons inspectors "immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access" to all sites and called for the special procedures for investigating the presidential sites. "These first or baseline inspections...to presidential sites clearly are being carried out to give effect to the memorandum of understanding signed by our Secretary General," one official said. "This is an immensely important document. It has to be put into practice." Although inspections of the presidential sites probably would have been called for based on evidence collected by UNSCOM during other investigations, "the core of the memorandum, in effect, is to get over to Iraq as soon as possible and do these initial visits to all of the eight sites," the official said. "We will be putting together the teams required to do that without delay," the official said. Dhanapala has asked that nominations for the diplomatic observers be at UN headquarters by March 13 so that diplomats can be in Baghdad and on-call for visits to presidential sites soon thereafter. The observers will be selected from a list of about 100 that will be compiled by the Secretary General. While US or British diplomats could be among the observers, the new procedures will made that difficult. Neither the US nor Great Britain is among the 40 nations with embassies in Iraq. However, the UN officials said that they can be flown in from Bahrain on special UNSCOM flights with weapons experts. Using senior diplomats housed in Baghdad will allow UNSCOM to maintain the element of surprise that is used when inspecting other sites in Iraq and is common in international disarmament verification procedures. Dhanapala will leave for Baghdad March 9 to prepare for the inspections of the sites, which until Annan's visit to Baghdad had been strictly off-limits to UNSCOM. According to a special UN survey team, the sites total about 31.5 square kilometers and contain 1,058 buildings. The senior officials said they did not know how long it will take to complete the baseline inspections. They also indicated that there would be follow-up visits in the future. The new teams will operate under the original procedures established by UNSCOM and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) -- which visits the nuclear sites -- when the inspections began seven years ago. However, under the new arrangements, when UNSCOM or IAEA decide to visit a presidential site, at least two senior diplomatic representatives will be called upon by Dhanapala to accompany the weapons experts. Dhanapala, himself, will accompany the teams on their initial, or "baseline," inspections. If the teams are divided then Dhanapala will designate one of the diplomats to act in his place, the UN officials explained. The functions of the senior diplomats will be "to observe that the provisions of the Memorandum of Understanding and the present specific detailed procedures are being implemented in good faith; (and) to report on any matter they deem appropriate to the functions of the diplomatic observers," the procedures say. "Upon entry into a presidential site, the team shall conduct itself in a manner consonant with the nature of the site," the procedures say. "It shall take into consideration any observations the Iraqi representative may wish to make regarding entry into a particular structure and then decide upon the appropriate course of action. This shall not, however, impede the ability of the team to fulfill its tasks as mandated under the relevant Security Council resolutions." The observers can report any inappropriate activities by either UN weapons experts or Iraqi officials to Butler, the IAEA director, or the Secretary General as well as help work out difficulties during the inspections, but will not be able to stop an inspection, the UN officials said. UNSCOM or IAEA will continue to decide what site to visit and when, who will head the team, what weapons experts to use, and will notify Baghdad of the inspection and the number of people on the team, they said. That is the same procedure as had been used in the past. UNSCOM usually informs Iraq 48 hours in advance about an inspection but does not give the location.