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USIS Washington 
File

16 April 1998

ANNAN: UNSCOM VISITS TO PRESIDENTIAL SITES HAVE NO TIME LIMIT

(UNSCOM warns Iraqis may try to limit visits) (1280)

By Judy Aita

USIA United Nations Correspondent



United Nations -- Secretary General Kofi Annan said April 16 that the
agreement he negotiated with Iraq on U.N. inspections of the so-called
presidential compounds allows weapons inspectors to "go again and to
go back again."


At a press conference, Annan was asked to comment on the warning by
the chief inspector of the U.N. Special Commission overseeing the
destruction of Iraqi weapons (UNSCOM) that Iraqi officials may be
intending to limit the number of presidential site inspections.


The secretary general pointed out that the agreement he negotiated in
February on the presidential site inspections was with President
Saddam Hussein and was signed by Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.


"I would hope that if there were going to be a change in policy it
will come from that level and the same source," Annan said. "We need
to be very careful not to jump to conclusions each time an Iraqi
official makes a statement. We will need to sort of test it, verify
it, and make sure if this is the intention or real decision of the
government."


"So far things have gone well and we hope that they will continue to
cooperate" he said of the first UNSCOM inspections of the presidential
sites. "I have had no official communication from the government that
they are ending their cooperation with the U.N."


The secretary general said "the agreement allows UNSCOM to go again
and to go back again and so it was not time-specific for one time
only."


"In fact, it was on that issue that we spent more time trying to
thrash it out until we got an agreement with the president himself,"
Annan recalled of his negotiations.


UNSCOM's report to the Security Council April 15 described Iraqi
cooperation as "satisfactory," but reported that Iraqi officials
involved in the inspection suggested that UNSCOM visits to the
so-called presidential sites would be for a limited period only.


Referring to comments made by Oil Minister Lt. General Amer Rashid
during the inspections that Iraq had agreed to only a process of
"finite duration," the head of the UNSCOM team said "the fundamental
issue of continuing access is by no means solved and has only been
postponed to the future."


"On balance, the mission was successful but it was apparent that some
key issues will arise again in the not too distant future and the
(Security) Council should be prepared to face them when they arise,"
said team leader Charles Duelfer.


"Certainly the matter of continuing access is unsettled and will
ultimately re-emerge as the Iraqi side clearly feels that the phrase
in the 23 February Memorandum of Understanding referring to 'initial
and subsequent visits' means for a limited period only," Duelfer said.


In addition, UNSCOM reported that while the level of cooperation by
the Iraqis allowed the mission to be completed, there were some
denials which were "not deemed essential for the present mission" but
could pose problems later on.


Duelfer, deputy UNSCOM director, led a team of 71 inspectors from 17
countries and a joint mission of 14 experts from the International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The inspections -- which produced a
baseline survey establishing location, general purpose, and a general
understanding of most of the more than 1,000 buildings with the eight
sites -- were conducted from March 25 to April 4. During the
inspections, an "extraordinarily large number" of Iraqi officials,
including Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, were present, slowing the
work, UNSCOM reported.


"The organization of convoys of the 25 or so U.N. vehicles and the 40
to 50 or more Iraqi vehicles was difficult," Duelfer said. "Convoys at
times exceeded a kilometer in length" and in the buildings the ratio
of Iraqis to inspectors was often five to one or greater.


"At times, inspectors asked minders to remain outside the buildings as
the crowds inhibited serious work," he said.


Duelfer said the mission was not intended to be a search for
prohibited weapons or relations materials and none was found. "In
fact, there was very little equipment, documentation, or other
material in the sites at all. It was clearly apparent that all sites
had undergone extensive evacuation."


Iraq had more than one month from the time the agreement was signed
with Annan on February 23 until the experts arrived to prepare for the
inspections.


Most buildings were emptied of contents and there were limited
documents and few computers at some government facilities such as the
Presidential Diwan; the Republican Palace, including the area
described as belonging to the president, was evacuated, the UNSCOM
deputy director said. "Iraq's explanation for this was that such
measures were taken in anticipation of a military strike."


The situation, he said, "makes follow-on missions more important."



Discussions also centered on UNSCOM's request that it be given 24
hours' notice when Iraq plans to make changes at the sites. Without
such notification, problems could arise in later inspections.


It was at that point that Rashid indicated that such an agreement
"would imply a continuing right of access to such sites by the
commission. This ... was not Iraq's position," Duelfer reported.


The inspections of the eight presidential sites were the first carried
out in over seven years of UNSCOM inspections in Iraq. Access to these
sites was granted only after Annan's special mission to meet with
Saddam Hussein resulted in an agreement to allow U.N. weapons experts,
accompanied by a special group of "diplomatic observers," to inspect
the eight presidential sites Iraq had declared off limits to the U.N.


The diplomats, Duelfer said, at certain times challenged the work of
the UNSCOM weapons experts and the experts responded with their own
challenges, raising the possibility that such incidents could occur in
the future, especially when surprise inspections are conducted.


"At times it seems that Iraq was raising spurious issues with the
diplomats to put the commission's experts on the defensive," he said.
"The commission's experts might then raise complaints of their own and
this had the potential of developing into a damaging tit-for-tat
situation."


Nevertheless, Duelfer said, "the negative dynamic seemed to recede" as
the site visits continued.


"The most contentious issue," he said, was overflights and photography
of the sites by the UNSCOM helicopter. Iraq initially denied
permission, turning to U.N. officials and ultimately, the secretary
general himself, before relenting.


The secretary general supported UNSCOM's position that such
photography is needed to verify building locations and structures by
ground inspectors. Nevertheless, the incident has important
implications for UNSCOM's authority, Duelfer pointed out.


It "may reflect a fundamental change in the relationship between Iraq
and the Special Commission," he said. "It will be important that the
secretary general's representative be supportive of the approach of
UNSCOM inspection teams or the chief inspector risks being undercut in
seeking Iraqi compliance in future disputes over access or other
matters."


Another potential problem was Iraq's requirement that a senior
diplomat accompany each part of the team as it breaks up into
sub-teams during a site visit, Duelfer noted.


There was no stated requirement for a senior diplomat to be present in
each sub-team in the original U.N.-Iraq agreement. That could cause
problems in the future when surprise visits require quick movement
into a location by several sub-teams, the UNSCOM deputy said.


"Assuring the presence of several diplomats at all locations will
inhibit the possibility of surprise since non-Baghdad-based senior
diplomats may then be required," he noted.


(For more information on this subject, contact our special Iraq
website at: http://www.usia.gov/iraq)