Posted 7:49 p.m. Sept. 18
by Melissa Kronfeld
U-WIRE (DC BUREAU)
(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – The Bush administration reacted with skepticism to an announcement made by Iraqi Foreign Affairs Minister Naj Sabri this week, stating that U.N. weapons inspectors could return to the country “without conditions.”
Sabri presented a letter from the Iraqi government stating the decision early this week while meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Moussa.
The unexpected decision came after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein met with his top advisers in Baghdad for the third time in recent weeks.
According to Sabri, “The Iraqi government hopes to remove any doubts that Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction,” and wants to facilitate negotiations for “a comprehensive solution that includes the lifting of sanctions imposed in Iraq.”
Simultaneously, Iraq reiterated the commitment of all nations to “respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of Iraq, as stipulated in the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions and Article (II) of the Charter of the United Nations.”
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz claimed the actions taken by his government have eliminated all grounds for a U.S. military strike, despite his belief that the decision will not end the tension between the two countries.
In a speech this week, Aziz accused the United States of trying to obtain control of Iraq’s massive oil supply by force. Iraq is the world’s second largest distributor of oil following Saudi Arabia.
“The only way to control the oil in Iraq is to destroy and divide Iraq and bring in a government like Afghanistan,” Aziz said.
Iraq’s decision coincides with a significant push by the United States to implement a new U.N. resolution calling for Hussein to allow weapons inspections teams back into the country. The resolution calls for rigid deadlines that carry with them penalties and the threat of military force if Hussein chooses not to comply.
The Bush administration dismissed the decision, claiming that the latest Iraqi declaration is only a “tactic” or “maneuver,” and described the letter as nothing more than “another claim on a piece of paper.”
Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters this week that he “wants Iraq to understand that this is not going to be business as usual or a repeat of what happened in the past. The only way to make sure … it seems to me, is to put it in the form of a new U.N. resolution.”
Following the end of the Gulf War in 1991, cease-fire terms dictated the deployment of U.N. appointed inspectors to verify the dismantling of Iraqi programs focused on the creation of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in addition to long-range missile technology. Financed by Iraqi oil revenue, the U.N. organized two teams of experts composed of almost 100 specialists from 27 different nations to investigate weapon advancements made by the military.
The teams were led by Hans Blix and Jacque Barte, and were ordered by the United Nations to leave the country in 1999 due to Hussein’s lack of compliance.
While addressing a Nashville, Tenn., fund-raiser for U.S. Senate candidate Lamar Alexander on Tuesday, President George W. Bush called Iraq, “a barbaric regime teaming up with a terrorist network, providing weapons of mass destruction to hold the United Sates and our allies and our friends by blackmail.”
Bush continued by calling upon the United Nations to act in timely manner.
“It’s time for them to determine whether they’ll be the United Nations or the League of Nations,” Bush said. “It’s time to determine whether or not they’ll be a force for good and peace, or an ineffective debating society.”
Last week, Bush addressed the United Nations, urging them to force Iraq to observe Security Council directives regarding weapons of mass destruction. Bush stated that Hussein has only exhibited contempt for the United Nations by breaking all pledges he had made.
Since the cease-fire agreement in 1991 that ended the Gulf War, the Iraqi regime has ignored Security Council Resolution 688 that demanded the regime end the repression of its people and other minority groups; Resolutions 686 and 687 that demanded the return of all prisoners of war; and Resolution 687 that required Iraq to renounce any terrorist involvement and not allow any terrorist organization to operate in the nation.
“The conduct of the Iraqi regime,” Bush said, “is a threat to the authority of the United Nations and threat to peace.”
The president finished his address by inviting the members of the United Nations to help Iraq “join a democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Palestine inspiring reform throughout the Muslim world.”
Bush accused the Iraqi leadership of continuing a “decade of deception and defiance.” The president also showed no reservations about entering into battle alone, claiming that did not required legal authority to use force, and that a U.S. military strike was justified by the actions of the Iraqi regime.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Atmitage said, “We don’t want to give him [Hussein] the first chance to hit us, to hit our friends and allies, whether it’s the Arab states in the region or Israel. We always have the right to go it alone. It is not the preferred option … but we will not abrogate our right to act in self-defense.”
United Nations inspectors believe Iraq has produced two to four times more biological agents since the last inspection and has failed to account for more than 3 metric tons of materials that could possibly be used for the production of biological weaponry.
Iraq also stands accused of maintaining stockpiles of VX gas, mustard gas and other chemical agents in addition to expanding facilities that are capable of producing chemical weapons.
Iraq retains SCUD type missiles with a range beyond the permitted 150 kilometers and is currently constructing even more long-range missiles. In 1995, Iraq admitted to having a crash nuclear weapons program prior to the Gulf War.
The Bush administration has also accused the regime of sabotaging the oil for food program, as decreed by the U.N.-imposed sanctions, by using oil revenues to buy missile technology and military materials. Experts believe Hussein still remains a few years away from having the capacity to manufacture the enriched uranium used in constructing nuclear weapons but may be able to steal or buy ready-made missile material on the black market, allowing him to manufacture a nuclear warhead in a matter of months.
In the past several weeks, U.S. officials have revealed evidence that Hussein has acquired thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, the key component for producing weapon-grade uranium.
The Bush administration has encountered both support and opposition from the international community over the possibility of striking Iraq.
The United Kingdom and Australia lead the American allied force with a commitment of military aid. British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that diplomacy should always come first “but when dealing with dictators, diplomacy must be backed up by the certain knowledge in the dictator’s mind that behind the diplomacy lays the real threat of force being used.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres doubts the Iraqi declaration will prevent a U.S. military strike. Peres stated, “I don’t believe it, supervisory inspectors are useful only when dealing with fair people. Unfair people know how to get around it easily.”
Many nations disagree with Bush’s plan however, citing the Iraqi decision to readmit weapons inspectors as a positive step. Russia and China, two of the veto-empowered members of the U.N. Security Council, view the decision as an opportunity to employ peaceful diplomacy.
The French government, also a veto power, hopes the decision will relax tensions and open negotiation.
Arab nations have welcomed the decision hoping it will act as a means of avoiding war but many also fear that the United States has already resolved to use military force. Many in the Arab community fear a U.S.-Iraqi conflict will bring instability to the region and arouse public anger. Moussa said in statement this week that a military strike against Iraq would “open the gates of hell.”
Recent U.S. and British air strikes against Iraq have been directed at crucial command and control buildings and military airfields. Rumsfeld has directed U.S. warplanes to strike and damage the Iraqi air defense systems by flying through “no-fly” zones.
Anan stressed the importance of unity this week, saying, “From my experience, the Security Council has a lot of impact and gets a lot done when they work in unison, and we should try and retain the unity of purpose that has emerged over the last few days as we move forward.”