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U.S. Fought Surprise Inspection (fwd)

---------- Forwarded message ----------

U.S. Fought Surprise Inspections 

                By Barton Gellman 
                Washington Post Staff Writer 
                Friday, August 14, 1998; Page A01 

                The Clinton administration has
                intervened secretly for months,
                most recently last Friday, to
                dissuade United Nations weapons
                teams from mounting surprise
                inspections in Iraq because it
                wished to avoid a new crisis with
                the Baghdad government, according
                to knowledgeable American and
                diplomatic accounts.

                The American interventions
                included an Aug. 4 telephone call
                between Secretary of State
                Madeleine K. Albright and Richard
                Butler, executive chairman of the
                U.N. Special Commission
                responsible for Iraq's disarmament, who spoke on a secure line
                from the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain. As a team of specialists stood
                poised in Baghdad, according to persons acquainted with the call,
                Albright urged Butler to rescind closely held orders for the team to
                mount "challenge inspections" at two sites where intelligence leads
                suggested they could uncover forbidden weapons components and
                documents describing Iraqi efforts to conceal them.

                (At the White House today, press secretary Mike McCurry denied
                the United States had attempted to stop U.N. inspections). 

                After a second high-level caution from Washington last Friday,
                Butler canceled the special inspection and ordered his team to leave
                Baghdad. The disclosure was made yesterday by officials who
                regarded the abandoned leads as the most promising in years and
                objected to what they described as the American role in squelching

                U.S. efforts to forge a go-slow policy in Iraq have coincided with
                the announcement by the Baghdad government that it would halt
                nearly all cooperation with the U.N. commission, known as
                UNSCOM, and the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy
                Administration. The two panels are responsible for ridding Iraq of
                ballistic missiles and biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

                The behind-the-scenes campaign of caution is at odds with the
                Clinton administration's public position as the strongest proponent
                of unconditional access for the inspectors to any site in Iraq. Led by
                the United States, and backed by American threats of war, the U.N.
                Security Council has demanded repeatedly since 1991 -- most
                recently in Resolution 1154 on March 2 -- that Iraq give
                "immediate, unconditional and unrestricted" cooperation to the
                inspection teams. That last resolution, at U.S. insistence, promised
                "the severest consequences for Iraq" for further defiance and was
                voted under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which is
                legal grounds for use of military force.

                Last week, as Albright reportedly sought to rein in Butler, the
                administration was retreating from the vows it made six months
                ago to strike immediately and with significant military force if Iraq
                failed to honor a Feb. 23 agreement that resolved the last such crisis
                over inspections. At that time, administration spokesmen described
                a "snap back" policy of automatic military retaliation if Iraqi
                President Saddam Hussein violated his agreement with U.N.
                Secretary General Kofi Annan.

                Now the administration argues, as White House spokesman P.J.
                Crowley said yesterday, that Iraq is proposing "a cat-and-mouse
                game" and "we're not going to play." He said the United States
                would continue its "encouragement" of Iraq's compliance with its
                obligations and would not allow economic sanctions to be lifted
                until it does so.

                Albright, in a one-sentence statement issued through a spokesman,
                said last night: "U.S. policy has been to fully support UNSCOM in
                its inspections and I have never told Ambassador Butler how to do
                his job." She and those speaking for her declined to answer further
                questions about her Aug. 4 "private discussions" with Butler and
                would not address specifically whether she had advised him to
                cancel the planned raids.

                Butler, reached by telephone yesterday, said any suggestion that he
                received orders from Albright would be "a very considerable
                distortion of what took place." He added, "No member of the
                [Security] Council, including the United States, has purported to
                give me instructions. They all recognize that their job is policy, my
                job is operations."

                Asked whether Albright urged him or advised him not to go
                forward, Butler said any answer "would be a very slippery slope" in
                which "I'd have to tell you what the Russian ambassador said, what
                the French ambassador said. Forgive me, but I won't get into that."
                Asked to confirm he spoke to Albright last week, he said, "I'm
                becoming concerned now about this line of inquiry."

                Beginning in June, according to knowledgeable officials, the U.N.
                inspectors developed secret plans -- withheld from most members
                of their own staff -- for surprise raids at two sites where they
                believed they would find evidence of forbidden chemical and
                biological weapons and the ballistic missiles capable of deploying
                them. The officials declined to describe the sites further, noting that
                they are still in operation.

                In a little-known practice that all parties are loathe to acknowledge,
                Butler dispatched senior lieutenants to London and Washington in
                late June to provide highly classified briefings on the intended
                inspection "targets," the sources said. Formally, Butler reports
                equally to all members of the Security Council and does not give
                them advance operational plans. But one official said he
                understands "it's suicide to go forward with an inspection like this"
                without informing his principal sponsors, the United States and

                The two governments, according to knowledgeable officials,
                acknowledged to Butler's deputies that UNSCOM had the right to
                make its own decisions. But they worked in concert in the weeks
                that followed to dissuade Butler from going forward with the
                inspection plan.

                After consultations in Washington, Derek Plumbly, director of the
                British Foreign Office's Middle East Command, flew to New York
                for a July 15 meeting with Butler. He told the Australian diplomat
                in no uncertain terms that the time was not ripe for a provocative
                challenge to Iraq, in part because Baghdad was still cooperating,
                ostensibly, on a "schedule of work" intended to resolve open
                questions, the sources said.

                Shortly after that meeting, U.S. Ambassador Peter Burleigh, the
                second-ranking delegate to the United Nations, called in Butler for
                a consultation in which he raised a long list of U.S. questions and
                concerns about the planned raids. Reading from prepared guidance,
                he told Butler the decision was UNSCOM's but left the inspection
                chief with the plain understanding that the United States did not
                support his plan, according to a knowledgeable account of the

                Butler canceled the raids in July but laid contingency plans to
                reschedule them this month after meetings on Aug. 3 and 4 in
                Baghdad with Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. Aziz announced
                late on the first day that Iraq would answer no further questions
                about its forbidden weapons, asserting that all the answers had long
                since been made.

                Butler had brought a senior inspection team led by Scott Ritter,
                who heads UNSCOM's efforts to penetrate Iraqi
                counterintelligence efforts against the inspectors. Included on
                Ritter's team, officials said, were language and computer experts,
                experts on import and export records, and scientists knowledgeable
                about missiles, chemical and biological weapons.

                On Aug. 4, Butler notified the U.S. government that he had
                authorized Ritter's team to conduct the raids on Aug. 6. That same
                day, he got word that Albright wished to speak with him and
                traveled to the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain for a secure discussion.
                Albright argued, according to knowledgeable accounts, that it
                would be a big mistake to proceed because the political stage had
                not been set in the Security Council.

                Butler agreed to a three-day delay, to Aug. 9, in hopes that he could
                build broader support for UNSCOM during informal consultations
                with the Security Council. But after he briefed the council
                governments in New York, he got another high-level American call
                on Friday urging him to have the Ritter team stand down. The same
                day, he ordered them home.

                In a letter to the council Wednesday, Butler said Iraq's new
                restrictions "bring to a halt all of the disarmament activities" of his
                inspectors. On Tuesday, Mohamed Baradei, director general of the
                IAEA, sent a similar letter to the council saying he could no longer
                give confident assurance that Iraq is not attempting to reconstitute
                its nuclear weapons program.

                Both men are awaiting further instruction from the Security
                Council, which is scheduled to take up the matter Tuesday.
                Yesterday in Baghdad, U.N. special envoy Prakash Shah said he
                conveyed a message from Annan that "Iraq should continue its
                cooperation" with the weapons inspectors. He announced no results
                from what he described as a "cordial" meeting. 

                       ) Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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