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Security Council Ambassadors to Visit Iraq, Annan Proposes

By John M. Goshko
The Washington Post

Secretary General Kofi Annan plans to propose that the ambassadors of the 15 Security Council countries travel to Iraq to see first hand how his agreement for weapons inspections at Iraq's so-called presidential sites is working, diplomatic sources said Monday. The inspections are expected to begin in about two weeks.

The sources said details of the proposed visit are still being worked out, but that the offer will be contained in a letter he plans to draft for submission to the council within the next few days. Some ambassadors have expressed interest informally in such a trip, although the idea has not been broached to the governments of council members, the sources added.

Annan submitted to the council Monday the detailed rules governing the inspections at the eight presidential sites under the agreement he negotiated in Baghdad two weeks ago with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The accord defused, at least momentarily, a possible military confrontation in the Persian Gulf by setting up a new system for searching for prohibited weapons in the sites which Iraq claims are vital to its national security.

The procedures devised over the last week at the United Nations for inspecting these sites - compounds containing an estimated 1,058 buildings - appeared to conform to Annan's assurances that the agreement does not compromise the U.N.'s ability to conduct inspections anywhere in Iraq. It also reaffirms that the ultimate authority in determining the methods and timing of inspections will remain with the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) set up by the Security Council following the 1991 Persian Gulf War to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

That is a matter of particular importance to the Clinton administration, which deferred plans for air and missile strikes against Iraq to permit a trial of Annan's agreement. The agreement was criticized heavily by some Republican leaders in Congress, and the White House sought assurances that inspections of the presidential sites would not be politicized by the new rules.

"We are still reviewing the procedures, but at first glance they appear to be adequate," U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson said today, after they were delivered to the council.

Under the agreement, the presidential sites are to be inspected by a new Special Commission composed of UNSCOM officials and diplomats from U.N. member states. The commission is to be led by Jayantha Dhanapala, the U.N. undersecretary general for disarmament affairs. But it will make its reports to Richard Butler, executive chairman of UNSCOM, who will send them to Annan.

Critics had expressed suspicion about how the new commission would divide authority during inspections. The procedures state clearly that Butler, or in cases involving searches for nuclear weaponry, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will designate the team leader and the expert members of the team.

Dhanapala, an internationally respected arms control expert who was chosen in part to reassure the United States, will pick the diplomatic members. While the procedures state that their job will be to observe that the provisions of the Annan agreement "are being implemented in good faith," they have no authority to give orders to the UNSCOM experts or dictate changes in the inspections. Any objections they might have are to be resolved informally between Butler and Dhanapala or set down in the written report of the inspection.

"The diplomats are there as observers and don't have a veto authority over anything that goes on; the inspections are to be performed by the experts," said a senior U.N. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official said that in choosing the diplomat members, Dhanapala prefers people already stationed in Iraq, partly to maintain the ability to mount surprise inspections.

Dhanapala plans to arrive in Baghdad on Wednesday to begin laying the groundwork for the inspections, and senior U.N. officials said the goal is to begin inspections in approximately two weeks. All eight sites are to be inspected. Annan is scheduled to meet with President Clinton in Washington on Wednesday to discuss the agreement.

In a related development, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf began talks with U.N. officials here today about implementing a new phase of the agreement under which Iraq can sell oil to obtain money to buy food and medicines. The Security Council has authorized increasing the amount Iraq can sell to $5.2 billion every six months, but the Iraqis want a greater relaxation of the restraints under which they must operate.