Wednesday, Dec 25, 2002
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IRAQ'S OFFER TO let personnel from the Central Intelligence Agency accompany U.N. inspection teams, which have been mandated to trace and erase all elements of Baghdad's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme, raises a probing question that the U.S. administration will have to answer. If Washington agrees with the rest of the global community that the elimination of Iraq's WMD potential is the sole matter of concern (and leading figures within the administration have declared as much off and on), then it is difficult to believe that objections can be raised to the Iraqi offer. Iraq had handed over 12,000 pages of documentation, which purportedly was a comprehensive and detailed exposition of all that it had done in connection with a WMD programme, to the weapons inspectors who then passed it on to the permanent members of the Security Council. After less than a fortnight's study of these documents, the U.S. administration, speaking through the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, had pronounced that the Iraqi declaration was less than a full disclosure and had provided some evidence in support of its charge. But Washington, which claims that it possesses satellite imagery and other intelligence to prove that Baghdad still has a clandestine WMD programme, had been reluctant to pass on these inputs to the weapons inspectors till Hans Blix, Chairman of the United Nations Monitoring Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), forcefully urged it to do so. Iraq's offer to allow CIA personnel to join the inspectors is of a similar nature as its main import is to demand that the U.S. administration put what it has on the table.
Baghdad retorted to the U.S. administration's negative assessment of its declaration by accusing Washington of twisting the material so as to present a distorted version and reiterated that it no longer had a non-conventional weapons programme. But whether the Iraqi declaration did amount to a complete disclosure or not the important fact is that the inspection teams are making progress. Personnel from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who have been trying to track down any element of Baghdad's nuclear weapons programme that may have survived the post-1991 efforts at eradicating it, have begun interviewing Iraqi scientists involved with that programme. UNMOVIC officials, who are mandated to uncover Baghdad's chemical and biological weapons potential and its long range missile capabilities, are soon expected to begin interviewing Iraqi scientists involved with these aspects of weaponisation as well. The U.N. is also exploring the ways and means by which these Iraqi scientists can be brought out of their country (and perhaps provided asylum) so that they can speak freely. In laying down the measures that Iraq needed to take before a ruling could be made that it was not in material breach of its obligations to the U.N., Gen. Powell had stressed on the need to have the Iraqi scientists and technicians taken outside the country.
While the U.N. teams do not have the easiest of tasks to perform, the overall indications are that the inspection work is proceeding apace. That being so it is to be hoped that the signals of battle readiness emanating from Washington are intended to keep up the pressure on Iraq and do not amount to a definitive move to make war, no matter what the inspectors say, and to fulfil objectives that are not mandated by the U.N. such as a regime change in Baghdad. In delivering his critical assessment of the Iraqi declaration at the end of last week, Gen. Powell deliberately declined to state that a finding that Iraq was in material breach of its obligations would necessitate a recourse to arms to make it comply. He had, thereby, implicitly left Iraq with the chance to come good on its promise to the U.N. and it is to be hoped that Baghdad will be given every opportunity to cooperate.
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