Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 202

Moscow spoke in two distinct voices yesterday–one official and one unofficial–as yet another conflict over weapons inspections flared up between Iraq and the UN. This latest drama began on October 30, when the United States blocked a UN Security Council proposal to consider a lifting of UN sanctions on Iraq if Baghdad agreed to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors. The proposal was backed by Russia, France and China, the three permanent UN Security Council members who have been most supportive of Baghdad’s efforts to win an easing of the sanctions. The October 30 developments, which led to a Security Council decision to extend the UN sanctions against Iraq indefinitely, prompted the Iraqi government to announce on October 31 that it would close the UN weapons inspectors’ long-term monitoring program. The Iraqis also demanded the removal of Richard Butler, the Australian diplomat who heads the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) in charge of dismantling Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

The Security Council, meeting in an emergency session yesterday, condemned the Iraq actions as a “flagrant violation” both of previous council resolutions and of a memorandum of understanding signed in February between UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. The council also demanded that Baghdad rescind its decision of August 5 which barred the UN inspectors from carrying out field inspections. The council decision was described as expressing the “unanimous view” of all fifteen council members. It made no specific mention, however, of possible punitive actions against Iraq. In Washington, U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen said that Iraq could face military air strikes if it continued to “flout” UN sanctions and warnings. Cohen said that he hoped military action against Iraq, if is required, would be backed by the UN. But he also said that a unilateral US attack remained “an option that we could pursue” (Reuters, Washington Post, November 1).

The Russian Foreign Ministry yesterday joined Washington in condemning the latest incidence of Iraqi defiance. A ministry statement warned Iraq to “weigh carefully all the negative consequences” of its move. The ministry also said that a failure to comply with the relevant UN resolutions could “result in the end of further efforts aimed at the settlement of the Iraq problem”–a reference to the efforts by Russia and other countries to win a lifting of the sanctions on Baghdad. “Only the resumption in full volume of the constructive cooperation with the UN, including the special commission, will provide for the settlement of the situation around Iraq” (AP, Itar-Tass, November 1).