13 March 1998
(Ritter reports to Secretary General Annan) (780) By Judy Aita USIA United Nations Correspondent United Nations -- Referring to "a new spirit" of cooperation between Iraq and the UN, the head of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) overseeing the destruction of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq told reporters March 13 that weapons experts received "access of a kind that we've never had before" during recent inspections. UNSCOM Chairman Richard Butler said that UN inspectors "were given access of a kind that we've never had before in terms of the places we got into and in terms of the numbers of inspectors and ways in which we got into those places including for example, the headquarters of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense." The head of the latest inspection team, UNSCOM chief inspector Scott Ritter, briefed Secretary General Kofi Annan on the first inspections of sensitive sites since the signing of the memorandum of understanding between Iraq and the UN February 23. The inspections, by 50 inspectors from 11 nations, were carried out March 6-9. "Ritter was able to report to the Secretary General that he considers -- and I certainly agree -- that we had established some new procedures and some new benchmarks there for access to sites that Iraq chooses to declare as sensitive," Butler said at a press briefing. "We are hopeful that having gained that access, established the practicality and usefulness of the procedure...it continues to work well in the future," Butler said. "There is a new spirit out there," he said. "I think that's what the Ritter exercise shows. The Secretary General has come back with a pledge of cooperation by Iraq and it seems to be being fulfilled. I really welcome that. "So far the tests have come up well," Butler said. "Sensitive" and "presidential" sites have been the source of major confrontations between Iraq and the UN in the past. On a special diplomatic mission to Baghdad February 21-23 Annan worked out a "memorandum of understanding" with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that states Iraq's agreement to allow weapons inspectors "immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access" to all sites and sets up special procedures for investigating eight presidential sites. In January Ritter's team was withdrawn after Iraqi officials refused to work with the group complaining that there were too many members from the United States and Great Britain. "What we have in our hands is a new situation created by the Secretary General in the memorandum of understanding. It gives us an unprecedented opportunity to get this job done," Butler said referring to an end to destruction of Iraq's weapons and cataloging of its banned weapons programs. (Economic sanctions against Iraq cannot be lifted until UNSCOM certifies to the Security Council that the weapons have been destroyed and Iraq's weapons programs are under long-term monitoring and verification.) "I will do whatever is required to get done on our side. I expect Iraq will do the same on its side and I think overall everyone would be better off if we did that rather quietly and got on with it," Butler said. Butler also announced that he will heading a scientific and policy team that will visit Baghdad beginning March 22 to discuss weapons inspections issues, including the upcoming visits to Iraq's so-called presidential sites. Inspections of the presidential sites are slated to begin soon after Butler leaves Baghdad. Butler said he will hold two days of meetings with Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz reviewing the results of the technical evaluation meetings that have been held on the status of the missile, chemical and biological weapons destruction and programs and "talking about the future of UNSCOM-Iraq cooperation in light of the memorandum of understanding." He also is slated to spend another two days with UN staff at UNSCOM's Baghdad monitoring and verification center. Undersecretary General Jayantha Dhanapala, who has been appointed the UNSCOM commissioner to handle the diplomats who will accompany UN weapons inspectors as "observers" at the presidential sites, will also be in Baghdad for talks with Iraqi officials. Butler said about 10 nuclear experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be joining UNSCOM chemical, biological, and missile experts and other UNSCOM personnel for the inspections of the eight presidential sites. Dhanapala will provide the diplomats needed for the teams. When all the personnel have been assembled "they will travel to Baghdad," Butler said. "We will do all eight sites beginning at one and continuing through all eight until we've done all of them," he said. The size of the teams will vary depending on the size of the presidential sites, Butler said.