Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 20

This week, after more than a month of being savaged by Russian diplomats, the embattled chairman of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) launched a few verbal salvos of his own at Moscow. In remarks published by the “Sydney Morning Herald” on January 27, Richard Butler accused Russia’s UN Ambassador Sergei Lavrov of having deliberately told falsehoods in order to discredit Butler and UNSCOM. The Australian diplomat insisted that he was not attacking Lavrov personally, but was instead trying to address “matters of fact.”

Butler expressed particular bitterness over what he said was Lavrov’s distortion of the facts which surrounded a report Butler submitted to the Security Council in December. The report suggested that Iraq had failed to cooperate fully with UN weapons inspectors despite promises Baghdad made only a month earlier to do so. The United States and Britain subsequently used the UNSCOM report as justification for their air raids against Iraq. At the time, Moscow denounced Butler’s report as having misrepresented Iraq’s record of cooperation with UNSCOM. Lavrov and other Russian diplomats also suggested that Butler had somehow connived with the United States and Britain in writing the report so as to provide a “trigger” for the air raids on Iraq.

In his January 27 interview Butler denied all of those Russian allegations and said that the air strikes on Iraq had taken him by surprise. He also argued that Moscow had chosen to misinterpret facts in the report–and in a way similar to the way Iraqi authorities had interpreted them. Furthermore, Butler vehemently rejected Russian assertions that he had ordered a halt to UNSCOM inspections in Iraq earlier than planned to clear the way for the U.S. and British air strikes. Most important, he denied any objective basis for his reportedly having stated in the UNSCOM report that Iraqi authorities had been cooperative with UN weapons inspectors. A report of that sort, he said, “would have been a lie… [and] all of the technical leadership of this organization [UNSCOM] would have been sold down the river” (Sydney Morning Herald, January 27).

Moscow reacted to Butler’s remarks with predictable fury yesterday. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin charged, first, that Butler had voiced “brutally twisted” judgments about Russia’s position in the UN Security Council regarding Iraq, and, second, that he had also made “unworthy and improper attacks” on Lavrov. Rakhmanin also accused Butler of having used expressions inappropriate for a diplomat and a high-ranking UN official. More to the point, Rakhmanin reiterated Moscow’s demand that Butler be discharged. “Neither his professional qualities, nor his moral qualities allow Butler to stay in his job. He should be fired as soon as possible,” Rakhmanin told reporters (Sydney Morning Herald, Russian agencies, January 27).