Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 151

Richard Butler, the former chairman of the weapons inspection team tasked with overseeing the disarmament of Iraq, charged this week that Russia, China and France had deliberately lied about nerve agent samples left in Baghdad in order to finally “kill” the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) which Butler headed. According to Butler, Russia, China and France knew full well that the tiny samples of VX and other chemical agents left in a UN laboratory in Baghdad were used to test Iraqi weapons materials and were so small that they posed no danger. Despite this knowledge, he said, the three UN Security Council members intimated that UNSCOM inspectors themselves may have laced Iraqi warheads with the VX and insisted that the samples be analyzed. He said that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and his staff actively participated in this “falsehood.” They “set a terrible precedent for the future” when they agreed to Iraq’s demand that UNSCOM experts be banned from the team sent to Baghdad to examine the laboratory (AP, August 3). The team found that the agents were, in fact, harmless, and destroyed them, despite objections from Moscow (see the Monitor, July 29).

Butler’s remarks come in a series of interviews given to “Talk” magazine, Associated Press Television News and the Sydney Morning Herald. The Australian diplomat, who was forced out of his job as UNSCOM chairman earlier this year after a stormy, two-year stint, is currently a diplomat-in-residence at the Council on Foreign Relations. UNSCOM, in turn, appears to be dead. In the aftermath of last December’s U.S. and British airstrikes on Iraq, Baghdad has ruled out any return of its inspectors, while Russia, China and France–the three nations which have carried Baghdad’s standard at the UN–have insisted that a new arms monitoring agency be created to replace UNSCOM. Contentious negotiations on that and related issues continue to divide Security Council members, who remain far from consensus on any new policy toward Iraq.

Some of Butler’s accusations–such as one alleging that Annan hired a former CIA agent to secretly investigate UNSCOM in order to discredit it–are explosive. More generally, he appears to blame the UN Secretary General and the three pro-Iraqi Security Council members–but particularly Russia–both for his own decision to leave UNSCOM and for the commission’s apparent demise. Among other things, Butler charges that a Russian adviser to Annan misrepresented the substance of Security Council discussions in reports to the UN Secretary General. The goal, according to Butler, was to present UNSCOM in the worst possible light. He also asserts that Russian charges–to the effect that Butler’s confrontational style was responsible for Iraq’s failure to comply with UN weapons destruction demands–will soon be exposed as a falsehood. Butler suggests that Iraq will continue to defy the UN despite his departure. And that, he intimates, will compel Baghdad’s supporters to find new scapegoats for Iraq’s failure to cooperate with the world community (AP, August 3; Sydney Morning Herald, August 5).

During his tenure as UNSCOM chairman, Butler was the victim of repeated personal attacks launched by Russia’s UN ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, and other Russian diplomats. Moscow reprised that sort of performance earlier this month, following the announcement of Butler’s departure from UNSCOM. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Butler’s “biased approaches” and “irresponsible moves” were the main reason for the diplomatic breakdown which led to the December airstrikes on Iraq by the United States and Britain. The spokesman also lamented the fact that Butler had not resigned earlier, and said that his departure had confirmed the correctness of Russia’s long efforts to oust him (Itar-Tass, July 6).

Butler first began responding to Russian attacks on his competence and integrity early this year. In a January 27 newspaper interview he accused Lavrov of, among other things, having deliberately lied in order to discredit him and UNSCOM as a whole (see the Monitor, January 29). Butler’s most recent interviews suggest that, now freed of his responsibilities as UNSCOM chairman, the Australian diplomat intends to tell his side of the story. There seems little doubt that a considerable amount of his ire will be directed at Moscow.