06 March 1998
(UNSCOM's Scott Ritter and team visits three sites) (780) By Judy Aita USIA United Nations Correspondent United Nations -- U.N. weapons inspectors visited sensitive sites in Iraq March 6 for the first time since the controversy between Baghdad and the U.N. escalated in early January. The team of the U.N. Special Commission overseeing the destruction of Iraq's weapons (UNSCOM) headed by Scott Ritter visited three sites that had been declared sensitive by Baghdad without incident, the U.N. said. The so-called "sensitive" and "presidential" sites have been the source of major confrontations between Iraq and the U.N. in the past. On a special diplomatic mission February 21-23 Secretary General Kofi Annan worked out a "memorandum of understanding" with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that spells out Iraq's agreement to allow weapons inspectors "immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access" to all sites and sets up special procedures for investigating eight presidential sites. Ritter, an American, has been the subject of many complaints and criticism by the Iraqi Government. He heads the team which is trying to uncover Iraq's plans to conceal data, programs and materials on the banned chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles from other U.N. inspectors. In January the team had been withdrawn after Iraqi officials refused to work with the group complaining that there were too many members from the United States and Great Britain. Asked about the Secretary General's reaction to the inspections March 6, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said that "this is what he expected. That is what he was told by the President of Iraq would happen and he expected the continued full cooperation of Iraq with these inspections." Other U.N. weapons inspections have been proceeding normally throughout the year. U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson called the news of the inspection "positive." However, Richardson added that the memorandum of understanding between the UN and Iraq "is going to succeed or fail based on the testing. There are a number of sensitive and presidential sites that I assume will be examined in days and weeks ahead." "It cannot be just a one-shot inspection success. It has to be a continuous consistent process of clear unfettered access to all sites, to all documents," the US Ambassador said. "Scott Ritter and his team resumed inspections in Iraq March 6. They viewed three sites between 9 A.M. and 7 P.M. local time. All three of these sites were declared sensitive sites by Iraq; nevertheless there was full cooperation on the Iraqi side and the inspectors were able to inspect all of these sites to their full satisfaction," Eckhard said at the daily briefing for journalists. "The inspections are essentially the continuation of the work that was interrupted in January," Eckhard said. The team, which arrived in Baghdad March 5, includes 50 inspectors from 11 countries and were joined by additional UNSCOM inspectors based in Baghdad, the UN spokesman said. The team members are from Argentina, Australia, Egypt, Germany, Jordan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Syria, the United Kingdom and the United States. UNSCOM has about 100 staff in Baghdad. The number of inspectors will vary from day-to-day as they carry out their current round of inspections in Baghdad, depending on the specific sites that they wish to visit, Eckhard said. The team is expected to remain in Iraq until about March 11. Eckhard denied press reports that Ritter's team was sent to Iraq by UNSCOM Executive Chairman Richard Butler without the Secretary General's knowledge. "There was full consultation between Chairman Butler and the Secretary General," the spokesman said. Eckhard also announced March 6 that U.N. Undersecretary General Jayantha Dhanapala will leave for Baghdad March 9 "to prepare the ground for the activities of the special group" that will visit the eight presidential sites, which until Annan's visit had been strictly off-limits to UNSCOM. In late February Dhanapala was named the UNSCOM commissioner to head the special inspection group that will include not only UNSCOM weapons experts but diplomats for the presidential sites. Eckhard added that the new procedures drawn up by Dhanapala for the presidential site inspections will be given to the Security Council on March 9. The spokesman also confirmed that Annan has been asked by Russia to appoint a Russian disarmament expert as a deputy to Butler. The request, in a letter from Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov, asked that the top level of UNSCOM be expanded. Annan "is still reviewing that letter," Eckhard said. There is currently only one UNSCOM deputy, Charles Duelfer of the United States.