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Annan deal gives Iraq wiggle room, ex-arms chief says

GLOBAL VIEWPOINT: In 1996, when Iraq barred your inspectors from Republican Guard sites, you made a deal - backed by a strong Security Council resolution - similar to the one just negotiated by Kofi Annan. Your deal then allowed Iraqi cabinet ministers to accompany UNSCOM weapons inspectors in exchange for full access. The Annan deal allows foreign diplomats to go along on inspections. How do you assess the current deal?

ROLF EKEUS: Well, the deal I made then was better in the sense that Iraq signed an agreement guaranteeing immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to all sites UNSCOM and the International Atomic Energy Commission wanted to inspect - period. The language in 1996 was very clear.Now, the language is that the U.N. inspectors will have access "in conformity with" U.N. resolutions 687 and 715 (dealing with the imposition of sanctions). That is not the same thing. And there are now "diplomats" with no obvious function added to the inspection teams of the eight presidential sites. So, now there is more room for the Iraqis to fudge and exploit differences of interpretation.

Nonetheless, the Annan agreement has all the requisite fundamentals - inspections anytime, anywhere, with no time limits.

Of course, the Iraqis didn't keep their word after the 1996 deal. Unless there has been a qualitative change in their attitude toward compliance, there is little reason to believe they will this time either. Their track record is poor.

VIEWPOINT: Will the presence of diplomats compromise the work of the UNSCOM teams?

EKEUS: I could foresee some operational problems. In order to maintain the surprise element necessary for effective inspection, UNSCOM is organized as a very solid and secure organization. If you add non-UNSCOM diplomats to the process, it could potentially alert Iraq to coming inspections.

This won't be a problem, of course, with the presidential sites. The whole world knows that those inspections are coming.

VIEWPOINT: Why is it so important that there be no time limits? Once UNSCOM goes in and inspects a site, isn't it clean?

EKEUS: The reason is that Iraq is using sites not directly involved with the manufacture of mass-destruction weapons as "hide" sites or "safehouses" where they withdraw records and weapons to keep them away from inspectors. I personally do not believe the Iraqis are using the presidential palaces as storage sites for weapons, but as temporary places to hide evidence from inspectors in hot pursuit.

You have to go back time and again on surprise visits to find anything. You can be sure now, though, that the contested presidential sites being opened to inspection have all been cleaned out.

VIEWPOINT: Will these inspections go on eternally? At what point do you say the job is done?

EKEUS: There are two types of inspections. The first, which have been called "search and destroy" missions that look for prohibited items in order to verify Iraqi declarations of compliance, will be terminated if Iraq is proved "clean." There may be a need now and then for spot checking, but essentially these can be closed down when UNSCOM can verify Iraq has no more mass-destruction weaponry or capability.

The other type of inspection is the continous monitoring of known or potential weapons-manufacturing sites with personnel, cameras, satellites and sensors. This type of inspection will continue for many years to come, even after the embargo is lifted. This monitoring is aimed at preventing Iraq from acquiring new weapons. The Iraqi government has no objection to this type of inspection.

VIEWPOINT: You have said that the pattern you've seen in the past is Iraq sacrificing "low-quality capability" to inspections in order to preserve "high-quality" weapons capability. In your view is the reason for this latest standoff because UNSCOM was getting close to the "high-quality" anthrax and other mass-destruction weapons?

EKEUS: Yes. I warned the Security Council as long ago as 1991 about this Iraqi "endgame." It has been clear all along that once we got close to the most sensitive part of the Iraqi weapons program inspections would become very difficult to carry out.

VIEWPOINT: And, presumably, during this recent period, the Iraqis have been able to remove the high-quality capability from the presidential sites or elsewhere and hide it again.

EKEUS: This is the suspicion of the current UNSCOM team, and in my view, it is a solid suspicion. At the same time the UNSCOM team has methods that allow it to watch what Iraq is doing very closely. It is not so much that the Iraqis have moved their capability to another place. Rather, they keep it in a very highly mobile state so they can move it around as necessary.

VIEWPOINT: Recently, it has been reported that Russian intelligence penetrated UNSCOM and was alerting Iraq to coming inspections. Do you believe these reports?

EKEUS: Look, UNSCOM is a big operation. It changes personnel as it goes along. So, there is a chance of leaks. However, normally the operational methods are such that UNSCOM protects itself quite effectively from penetration.

The chief inspector and his immediate staff decides where the next inspections are going to be and does not even inform the inspection team until the moment is at hand. When the inspectors arrive on the scene, then, of course, it is not a secret anymore.

VIEWPOINT: You were quoted as saying that Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz "writes the script" for Yevgeni Primakov, the Russian foreign minister, in Russia's diplomatic efforts on behalf of Iraq. Is that what you said?

EKEUS: Well, that was a reckless statement I made at a luncheon, and I regret it. It is no secret that these two characters talk all the time, know each other well and see the world much the same way.

At the same time, I hasten to say that the senior Russian specialists who have been helping UNSCOM are of outstanding professional quality. They have shown not the slightest political bias in favor of the Iraqis, or against them.

VIEWPOINT: Former CIA director James Woolsey has said that even if Iraq gets a clearance from UNSCOM that all mass-destruction weapons have been destroyed, they can build them up again relatively easily. Scud missiles can be bought from their Russian friends. Biological weapons can be made with the equipment for a microbrewery. They have the scientists. Do you agree?

EKEUS: In principle this is true, but, realistically, there are many obstacles.

First, UNSCOM will continue its comprehensive monitoring. This will make it very difficult for Iraq to buy and import any prohibited items without being detected. The commission has a very tight watch on the supply network - on contracts and the trading routes.

Second, it does no good to possess a bucket of anthrax. You need a delivery system - a spray device or a bomb - to do any damage. Here, the commission is very well placed to detect any "weaponization" of biological or chemical potential.

The UNSCOM system is very strong. I am quite confident that if we can flush out into the open what Iraq now possesses, it will be very difficult for them to build it up again.

1998 Global Viewpoint

Dist. by L.A. Times Syndicate