Talks on visas for weapons inspectors

U.N. officials, who are led by chief arms inspector Hans Blix, said they had pressed President Saddam Hussein’s envoys to provide guarantees of fuller access than Iraq allowed in the years leading up to the breakoff of inspections in 1998, when Iraqi officials barred inspectors from surprise inspections at sensitive sites such as Saddam’s presidential palaces.

“We aim as much as possible to restore the concept of inspections at any time and any place and get unfettered access,” said Mohamed Baradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is hosting the talks.

However, “as much as possible” may not be enough for the Bush administration and its main ally in the United Nations, Britain. The United States and Britain have proposed a new Security Council resolution setting deadlines on Iraq to disclose all its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs and ensure their swift elimination under the threat of military force.


In the proposal, the United States is urging that U.S., British or U.N. forces be authorized to use military force to guarantee that the inspectors have access by air or road to any sites suspected of harboring weapons facilities and to set up “no-fly” or “no-drive” zones around the sites to prevent Iraqi officials from impeding inspections by Blix’s team.

In addition, President Bush and his lieutenants repeatedly have said their goal stretches beyond weapons inspection — or even ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction — to the overthrow of Saddam’s government.

If the U.N. inspectors here say they are satisfied and willing to proceed to Iraq under conditions worked out here, opponents of the British and American stand will have a new reason to question the need for another U.N. resolution backed up by the threat of force.

France, for instance, has insisted the Security Council first issue a resolution demanding the inspectors’ return, then a second resolution containing the threat of force only if Iraq refuses to cooperate. The French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, also said in an article published Monday that Washington’s further goal of overthrowing the Saddam government was illegitimate under international law.


Russia, another opponent of the U.S.-British approach, criticized the two nations for a new bombing raid Sunday against Iraqi air defenses, saying the attack could poison the talks here. “Anglo-American bombing raids in no-fly zones not only deepen the complicated atmosphere around Iraq but create obstacles in the search for a political-diplomatic settlement of the Iraq question,” a Foreign Ministry statement said in Moscow.

The Chinese government, meanwhile, was briefed on the U.S.-British proposal by the visiting British deputy undersecretary of state for defense and international security, William Ehrman.

Officials close to the talks in Vienna, which wrap up today, said U.N. negotiators had advised the Iraqis that the more access they conceded, the more likely they were to be regarded as being cooperative. Implicit was the idea that Iraqi acquiescence could save it from a new resolution with the threat of force and from the U.S. threat of an attack to force a change in government.

“This is a defining moment that will not only decide the fate of inspections, but whether there will be a pre-emptive strike,” said an official close to the talks.


Between the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War and 1998, Iraqi limits on inspections centered on two areas: presidential palaces and other sensitive sites including such places as intelligence offices, some army bases and buildings belonging to the Baath Party, Saddam’s political movement. Limits on scheduling and on the numbers of inspectors that could visit such places led to suspicions that Iraq was hiding something.

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