Rumsfeld Disputes Value Of Iraq Arms Inspections
Remarks Spotlight Split Among Bush Aides
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 16, 2002; Page A13
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday he was skeptical that a new United Nations arms inspection regime would build confidence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is not developing nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
Rumsfeld told reporters that even when U.N. inspectors were in Iraq during the 1990s, "for the most part anything they found was a result of having been cued to something as a result of a defector giving them a heads-up."
Rumsfeld's remarks reflected sharp differences within the Bush administration over the prospect of resuming the U.N. inspections. Senior Pentagon officials fear the inspections could complicate their goal of ousting Hussein by force, while the State Department has been pressing for Iraq to accept the new U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission and renew the inspections program that was abandoned in 1998.
State Department spokesman Philip Reeker told reporters yesterday that U.S. policy is to support the commission and the U.N. resolutions that require Iraq to accept "full, unfettered, unconditional access" to suspected weapons sites. "The weapons inspectors," Reeker said, "must be able to operate on an anytime, anywhere basis for inspections to meet the standards set by the [U.N.] Security Council."
Hans Blix, the U.N. panel's executive chairman, told Washington Post editors and reporters yesterday that his approach will be to place the "burden of proof" on Iraq to demonstrate it is not developing weapons of mass destruction.
He noted several changes from previous U.N. efforts that include funding for the commission from a surcharge on Iraqi oil sales and making the commission independent from pressure of individual nations that previously paid for the inspectors. Another change, Blix said, was that in addition to inspecting and monitoring potential weapons production plants, the new commission would have the right to visit Iraqi military bases and facilities.
Blix said he would accept and depend on intelligence supplied to the U.N. inspectors by individual countries, but that "it would be a one-way street." His predecessors were accused of using inspections to gather intelligence in Iraq.
If Iraq does not "open all doors" and cooperate "in all respects," Blix said he would suspend operations and recommend that economic sanctions on Iraq be continued.
There is no certainty that Iraq will agree to allow inspectors back into the country. A meeting in March between U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and an Iraqi delegation was to be followed by another meeting this month, but Iraq last week canceled it. U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said yesterday that Iraq had suggested new dates for the meeting.
Blix, who attended last month's session, said the Iraqis raised a series of questions about renewed inspections but that Annan made it clear that the meetings were "not a negotiation" and that the duration of the inspections and monitoring was up to the United Nations.
Blix also said that Iraq would not have a say in the nationalities of inspectors. "Excluding U.S. participation is out of the question," he said when asked about such a demand made by Iraq in the past.
In what could be an acknowledgment of Rumsfeld's concerns, Blix said that no system would be foolproof and that it was his expectation that a "residual uncertainty" would remain after any inspection.
Rumsfeld and Reeker commented in response to questions about a report yesterday in The Washington Post that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz had requested a CIA investigation in January into Blix's performance as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency between 1981 and 1997.
Reeker said that Blix "has our full confidence" and that the Swedish diplomat had told the United States that "his mandate is to conduct a thorough, no-holds-barred inspection of Iraq's compliance."
Rumsfeld said the Wolfowitz request, which he denied was an "investigation," was like many that take place every day "to look into this, amplify on that."
© 2002 The Washington Post Company