26 March 1998
(Officials say weapons inspection "went very well") (570) By Judy Aita USIA United Nations Correspondent United Nations -- UN inspections of Iraq's eight presidential sites began March 26 at Radwaniyah Palace about 20 kilometers west of Baghdad, the United Nations announced March 26. The inspection "went very well," UN officials said. The inspection grew out of the special mission to Iraq in February by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. His talks there with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein resulted in an agreement to allow UN weapons experts to inspect the eight presidential sites Iraq had previously declared off limits to the UN. The inspections are being conducted by the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) overseeing the destruction of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Under the terms of Annan's agreement with Iraq, the weapons experts are now being accompanied by senior diplomats from countries that are permanent members of the UN Security Council. "The inspection team is led by the deputy chairman of UNSCOM, Charles Duelfer and consists of more than 70 inspection personnel -- 58 people who flew into Baghdad specifically for the inspections of the eight presidential sites are joined by resident staff members of UNSCOM," Juan Carlos Brandt, a UN spokesman said. "Everything seems to indicate that inspections today went very well, nothing out of the ordinary," Brandt added. The UN had announced earlier in the week that the 20 senior diplomats selected by UN Undersecretary General and UNSCOM Commissioner Jayantha Dhanapala had arrived in Baghdad and were ready to begin accompanying the inspectors. Included among the diplomats are Ambassador Ryan Crocker of the United States, who was based in Washington until being assigned to Baghdad, and British Counselor Simon Collis who was based in Amman. The list also includes Chinese Minister Counselor Cui Tiankai, who was based in New York; retired French diplomat Marcel Laugel, an Arabist living in Beirut; and Russian Minister Alexandre Kalugin, who was in Moscow. The new teams will operate under the original procedures established by UNSCOM and the IAEA when the inspections began seven years ago. Inspections of the presidential sites will be under the direction of regular UN weapons inspectors. 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 is accompanying the teams on their initial, or "baseline," inspections. The functions of the senior diplomats will be to observe that the provisions of the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Annan and Iraq and the 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," according to the procedures. UNSCOM Chairman Richard Butler, who is also in Baghdad for talks with Iraqi officials on the status of the inspections overall, was quoted in press reports as saying that there was a major change in attitude by Iraqi officials since the Secretary General's February mission. "Last time I was here in January the talks were then the toughest any of my staff had seen over four or five years. Sometimes there was language that bordered on abusive. There was absolutely none of that this time. They were courteous and very constructive," Butler told The New York Times newspaper.