Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 13

In yet another indication of how deeply divided the UN Security Council remains on the subject of Iraq, council members yesterday were unable to reach agreement on the appointment of a new chief UN weapons inspector for Iraq. Yesterday’s failure comes one month after the Council’s grudging, December 17 approval of a resolution setting out a new weapons inspection regime for Iraq (see the Monitor, December 21). Permanent council members Russia, China and France abstained from the December 17 vote, however, and there were suggestions at the time that the absence of consensus could very well hamstring efforts to put the resolution into effect. Those concerns appear to have been borne out. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan announced the day before yesterday (January 17) that he was nominating Rolf Ekeus, currently Sweden’s ambassador to the United States, to head a new commission to be charged with overseeing Iraq’s disarmament. Moscow immediately rejected the nomination in a formal letter to Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. ambassador to NATO and this month’s council president. China and France followed Russia in rejecting the nomination yesterday. The United States and Britain support Ekeus.

The outcome of yesterday’s UN Security Council meeting was not unexpected. The December 17 resolution had given Annan thirty days to come up with a candidate to head UNMOVIC–the new UN commission to take up oversight of Iraq’s disarmament in place of the previous commission, the now defunct UNSCOM. But differences among council members were immediately apparent. As Annan’s January 16 deadline approached, he was unable to win agreement on any of the twenty-five possible candidates he had presented either formally or informally to council members. Ultimately he returned to Ekeus, who–reports have said–was his favorite from the beginning. Russia, China and France, however, had already indicated their dissatisfaction with the Swedish diplomat in the informal discussions which preceded Annan’s announcement this week.

The unwillingness of Russia, China or France to back Ekeus stems from the fact that he headed UNSCOM from the time of its creation in 1991 until 1997. And though his tenure was less contentious than that of his successor, Australian diplomat Richard Butler, Ekeus’ determined efforts to uncover information about prohibited Iraqi arms programs did earn him the enmity of the Baghdad authorities. Not surprisingly perhaps, the explanations offered by Russia in particular for its opposition to Ekeus in this latest go-around mirrored the Iraqi government’s sentiments. Russian diplomats said that they opposed the nomination because Ekeus would be unacceptable to Baghdad. They also suggested that his previous ties to UNSCOM made him a poor candidate for the post. Russia was the Security Council’s foremost critic of the UN disarmament commission during the last year of its existence, and Russian diplomats have been stridently opposed to any role for UNSCOM or its personnel in the creation of UNMOVIC. Indeed, those supporting Ekeus now do so in part on the basis of his intimate knowledge of Iraqi weapons programs. That knowledge appears to be a primary reason for Iraq’s and Russia’s rejecting him.

Annan suggested this week that he believes that the Ekeus nomination still has a chance of being approved, and a U.S. official said that Washington would fight to make the appointment stick. But a prolonged battle could be just around the corner. In a suggestion that the Security Council could be hamstrung once again over policy toward Iraq, Holbrooke said yesterday that discussions on naming a head for UNMOVIC could take days or even weeks. Meanwhile, no deadline has been set to find a new candidate and no new talks on the subject have been scheduled. The search, however, will obviously become no easier. Moscow has already indicated that it will not support a candidate from any NATO country, and a Russian diplomat suggested yesterday that Moscow could also join China and others in demanding that the head of UNMOVIC hail from a Third World country. But Annan has already proposed several candidates with that qualification. Some apparently were not in a position to take the post. At least one other, former Brazilian ambassador Celso Amorim (a leading candidate) was said by the United States to have insufficient arms control experience (Washington Post, January 15, 18; Los Angeles Times, January 18; Reuters and AP, January 14-18; Russian agencies, January 18).

The battle over the selection of a new head for UNMOVIC, meanwhile, will not proceed in isolation. Iraq has exerted considerable pressure on Russia, China and France over the past year to support Baghdad in Security Council deliberations. It was, in fact, a threat by Iraq to terminate a series of lucrative oil development contracts with French companies that appeared to be behind Paris’s last minute decision last month to abstain from the December 17 Security Council vote. Similar threats have been directed at Russia and China (see the Monitor, December 21). Iraqi diplomats and government officials, meanwhile, have called with increasing insistence for Russia to act on Iraq’s behalf with more than mere words and declarations. Among other things, they have demanded that Russian oil companies immediately begin fulfilling oil development contracts of their own in Iraq–an act that would violate UN sanctions against Baghdad–or face the risk of forfeiting participation in those projects.