19 February 1998
(Kofi Annan leaves for Baghdad on diplomatic mission) (670) By Judy Aita USIA United Nations Correspondent United Nations -- The United States strongly supports the diplomatic mission to Baghdad of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, but reserves the right to oppose any agreement that is inconsistent with UN Security Council resolutions, Bill Richardson, US Ambassador to the world organization, said February 19. Speaking with reporters after a private meeting of the Security Council, Richardson said "we believe the Secretary General's trip is very important. We hope he succeeds." Richardson called the Secretary General's mission "most likely the last hope for a diplomatic solution." "That doesn't mean Saddam Hussein is off the hook. That means that Saddam Hussein's problems will increase," he said. But Richardson acknowledged that Annan's mission is "going to be tough" because "Iraq is the one party that has to back down." "The issue is clear," the Ambassador said, "Iraq has to back down. They have to agree to full, unfettered inspections of all sites, no conditions. They have to also agree to the full integrity of the U.N. inspection team of UNSCOM (UN Special Commission overseeing the destruction of Iraqi weapons). They have to abide by Security Council resolutions." "That's where the solution lies and either Iraq is going to accept it or it isn't," Richardson said. The United States has "always supported the Secretary General's going to Baghdad," Richardson added. "We just want to make sure that it is clear that Iraq is the one party that has to back down. It's not anybody else backing down or seeking deals or compromises or wiggle room." The United States believes it has "the right to oppose a potential agreement that we feel is inconsistent with Security Council resolutions and our own national interest. Every member state has that (right)," Richardson said. Annan left for Baghdad via Paris the morning of February 19. Leaving New York's Kennedy International Airport, the Secretary General told journalists that after extensive meetings with the five permanent members of the council (China, France, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States) he has "all the elements" he needs to meet with Iraqi officials to try to advert a military strike by the United States. When he meets with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Annan said, "I will have to explain the situation very clearly and get him to understand that it is in his best interest and in the interest of the Iraqi people to agree to implement Security Council resolutions." The Secretary General admitted that the relationship between the United Nations and Iraq is "a rather difficult one." "There is a great deal of suspicion on both sides and it is not going to be easy to overcome that gulf and get (Saddam Hussein) to understand what I have come to tell him," Annan said. Annan said that he did not see any connection between his mission and the failed mission to Iraq of his predecessor Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait but prior to the Gulf War. "In 1991 we hadn't seen the war," Annan said. "Iraq has been hit many times and knows what happens when the international community decides to use force. So I think that knowledge and that history should also help in these discussions." Meanwhile, a UN spokesman said February 19 that the UN team surveying the eight presidential sites has finished its work. Two members of the team are leaving Baghdad while the head of team is staying on to assist the Secretary General during his talks. The UN also said that 31 UN staff members have left Iraq and another 29 are expected to leave Baghdad February 20. The staff members are considered non-essential and the evacuation was taken "as a precaution." Currently 260 international staff work for the UN and UN agencies in Baghdad including 120 UNSCOM staff. There are approximately 470 UN international staff throughout the country.