U.N. Panel on Iraqi Disarmament

Associated Press, Reuters, CNN
February 23, 1999

A panel of international arms experts met for the first time Tuesday to begin discussing how to renew the Iraqi disarmament process, which has been stalled since mid-December. The 20-member panel is one of three committees created by the U.N. Security Council to review Iraq's relationship with the United Nations on issues of disarmament, humanitarian affairs and the fate of Kuwaiti prisoners captured during the 1991 Gulf War.

The disarmament team will initially focus on assessing the state of the eight-year U.N. effort to rid Iraq of its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the long-range missiles to deliver them.

"I'm very hopeful ... that the panel will be able to have a fresh look at this dossier and enable the Security Council to take the policy decisions," panel chairman and Brazilian U.N. Ambassador Celso Amorim said before the meeting began.

The panel will not formally decide a future policy, Amorim said. Instead, it has been commissioned to report back to the Security Council by mid-April with recommendations on how to continue the disarmament program. One of the key issues the panel must address is whether it will travel to Iraq. Amorim said such a visit was "not excluded," but "we also have to bear in mind that Iraq has to be engaged in this process, but in a constructive way."

No cooperation from Iraq

Baghdad has refused to cooperate with the panels, calling them a "procrastination" of discussions to lift economic sanctions imposed on Iraq after the war. Iraq's government has also banned the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM), which had overseen the inspection of Iraqi weapons programs, from returning to Iraq. UNSCOM's chief weapons inspector, Richard Butler, is not a member of the panel, but his deputy, Charles Duelfer of the United States, is one of 12 UNSCOM panelists.

Also on the panel are experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the U.N. undersecretary-general for disarmament, Jayantha Dhanapala.

Iraq froze its cooperation with UNSCOM following four days of U.S. and British military strikes in December. Iraq claims it has disarmed and is demanding an embargo on its oil sales be lifted immediately. U.N. weapons inspectors say Iraq must still provide more information about its weapons programs -- particularly in the biological field -- before they can certify that Iraq has disarmed.

Since the panel includes political appointees as well as technical experts, it is likely to mirror some of the policy differences that have divided the Security Council, on which Russia, France and China have adopted a much more sympathetic stance toward Iraq than the United States and Britain. Russia, France and China also have been critical of UNSCOM, with Russia calling for it to be scrapped and Butler to be fired.

The humanitarian and Kuwait panels are expected to begin meeting next week.

More Information on the Iraq Sanctions