UN, Iraq reach a deal on inspections; US objects
Access to palaces is a sticking point
By Brian Whitmore, Globe Correspondent, and Anne E. Kornblut, Globe Staff, 10/02/2002
IENNA -- The United Nations reached a deal yesterday with Iraq on terms for the resumption of weapons inspections for the first time since 1998 -- except at Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces -- but the Bush administration immediately rejected the arrangement and demanded a stronger UN resolution before the inspectors return.
The agreement announced yesterday by Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector, who concluded two days of negotiations in Vienna with Iraqi officials, calls for the return of the first inspection team as early as Oct. 19. But Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said the administration would oppose any inspections that take place under the old rules and urged the UN Security Council to pass a tough new resolution before the inspectors enter Baghdad.
"Let there be no doubt in anyone's mind that the United States will continue to pursue a new UN resolution with the Security Council," Powell said in Washington. "We do not believe that [the inspections teams] should go back in under the old set of resolutions and under the old inspection regime. And therefore, we do not believe they should go in until they have new instructions in the form of a new resolution."
The White House has argued -- beginning with a speech last month by President Bush before the UN General Assembly -- that the current rules governing weapons inspections are inadequate because they do not guarantee free access to eight presidential facilities in Iraq unless inspectors are accompanied by international diplomats.
"We have made it clear that those old resolutions are what got us in trouble in the first place," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in London, adding that the Iraq-UN agreement is "not an alternative" to a firm resolution backed by the use of force.
Increasing the pressure on Iraq further, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer all but dared the Iraqi opposition to assassinate Hussein or expel him from the country. Asked at a news conference about the cost of a US invasion, Fleischer noted that Bush has not decided on such a move.
However, Fleischer added: "I can only say that the cost of a one-way ticket is substantially less than" a US invasion. "The cost of one bullet, if the Iraqi people take it on themselves, is substantially less than that. The cost of war is more than that. But there are many options that the president hopes the world and people of Iraq will exercise themselves if that gets rid of the threat."
Asked to clarify whether the US advocated Hussein's assassination, Fleischer replied, "Regime change is welcome in whatever form that it takes."
The deal with Iraq and Washington's response touched off fresh debate yesterday over a proposed UN Security Council resolution that was being circulated at UN headquarters in New York. A meeting yesterday of the five permanent council members to discuss terms for a new Iraq resolution ended without agreement.
The US-drafted resolution would, among other things, delay entry of inspections teams until Iraq has provided a full accounting of its weapons of mass destruction -- presumably postponing the inspectors' return. It would also authorize any member nations to "use all necessary means" if Baghdad fails to comply with any of the resolution's demands.
Blix is expected to report tomorrow to the Security Council on the new agreement reached with Iraq. The terms announced yesterday by UN and Iraqi officials would allow the inspectors' return under current UN resolutions.
"There is a willingness to accept inspections that has not existed before," Blix told reporters in Vienna. "Iraq accepts all of the rights of inspectors provided for in all relevant Security Council resolutions."
Yesterday's agreement threatened to derail US efforts to persuade other Security Council members to approve a tougher resolution. France, China, and Russia -- permanent council members who wield veto power -- have said they want inspections before any military strike. France has proposed a two-step resolution that sends inspectors into Baghdad first, then considers military force only if Iraq refuses to cooperate.
Bush's position is backed strongly by only one other permanent council member, Britain.
Even before UN and Iraqi negotiators announced yesterday's deal, Bush administration officials warned that any new deal must include the same "unfettered, anytime, anywhere" access that Iraq offered two weeks ago in a letter sent to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. US officials insist that presidential palaces could contain weapons of mass destruction.
"These are places that Saddam Hussein doesn't even go to," Fleischer told reporters yesterday. "These are government facilities, government property, where who knows what is going on, and there's a good reason Saddam Hussein does not want people to go there."
UN diplomats, however, insisted they were heartened by the Vienna agreement. "We have now the assurances from the Iraqi side that we will have unrestricted, uninhibited, and unconditional access to all sites, with the exception of the presidential sites," said Mohamed El Baradei, director general of the Vienna-based Atomic Energy Agency.
Baghdad contends that US officials are seeking access to the presidential sites to spy on Iraq.
Under a 1998 deal negotiated between Annan and Iraq -- and endorsed by Washington at the time -- inspectors were given access to eight presidential palaces covering an area of about 12 square miles. UN monitors left Iraq in late 1998 prior to US and British airstrikes in retaliation for noncooperation with inspections.
Baghdad's chief negotiator, General Amir Al Sadi, said inspections of Saddam's palaces were "not a subject" on the agenda. "Quite honestly I don't understand why it is so critical," Al Sadi added.
In addition to the presidential sites, Baghdad had also previously placed a number of "sensitive sites" off limits to spot inspections, including the headquarters of the Republican Guard and the Defense Ministry. These sites will now be open to inspectors, officials said yesterday.
In London yesterday, Prime Minister Tony Blair warned the United Nations that its authority would be destroyed if it did not confront the danger that Iraq posed to the world.
"If at this moment, having found the collective will to recognize the danger, we lose our collective will to deal with it, then we will destroy not the authority of America or Britain but of the United Nations itself," Blair said.
Whitmore reported from Vienna and Kornblut from Washington. Charles M. Sennott of the Globe staff contributed to this report from London.
This story ran in the Boston Globe on 10/02/2002.
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