Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 222

Washington and Moscow continued to clash yesterday over UN policy toward Iraq, as U.S. secretary of defense William Cohen accused Iraq of trying to evade UN arms inspectors and warned of possible punitive measures, while Moscow repeated its calls for restraint. Cohen’s remarks coincided with the release of an annual Pentagon report that named Iraq as one of more than 25 countries which either have, or are trying to develop, weapons of mass destruction. Cohen charged that Iraq had produced between 20 and 200 tons of a deadly VX chemical agent — enough, he said, to kill every person on earth. Cohen also called UN efforts to uncover Iraqi weapons programs a "long-term project," and said that there are no plans to reverse the recent U.S. military build-up in the Gulf. He warned that any use of force by the U.S. against Iraq would "not be a pinprick."

Cohen’s remarks were part of a more general effort by the Clinton Administration in recent days to counter efforts by Russia to win an easing of UN sanctions on Iraq. Despite Iraq’s expulsion last month of U.S. members of the UN weapons inspection team and a report last week by UNSCOM — the UN Special Commission on weapons inspections — that Iraq continues to impede inspections, Moscow has argued that Iraq should be declared free of banned weapons and that intrusive inspections of its nuclear and missile programs should be ended. In response to Washington’s warnings of possible punitive actions against Iraq, a Russian foreign ministry spokesman said in Moscow yesterday that "all parties concerned should show restraint and caution, and refrain from any abrupt moves that could start a new spiral of tensions in the Gulf." (Western agencies, November 25; Reuter, The Washington Post, November 26)

These latest developments suggest that Russia’s brokering last week of a settlement to the Iraq crisis has in fact shifted rather than resolved the conflict, and that the possibility of another diplomatic confrontation over policy toward Iraq cannot be ruled out. Moscow won Iraq’s assent last week to the return of UN weapons inspectors in return for a pledge from Russia to back Iraq’s demand for a gradual easing of UN sanctions and for changes in the way weapons inspections are conducted. On that last point, a battle appears to be shaping up in the UN over Baghdad’s efforts to rule certain "sensitive" areas off-limits to the UN inspectors. The U.S. has argued against any such limitations and has contended that the inspections should, in fact, be more intrusive.

Chernomyrdin in Vietnam.