07 May 1998
(Move opens way to end travel ban on Iraqi officials) (470) By Judy Aita USIA United Nations Correspondent United Nations -- The head of the Special Commission overseeing the destruction of Iraqi weapons (UNSCOM) officially notified the Security Council May 6 that Iraq has granted weapons experts unrestricted and unconditional access to all sites, thus paving the way for ending a six-month ban on Iraqi officials traveling abroad. The ban, which was never enforced, will terminate automatically, a UN official said. In a letter to the council, UNSCOM Chairman Richard Butler said that having studied the facts in recent weapons inspections, he found that "Iraq has granted unrestricted and unconditional access to all those sites that the commission has wished to inspect, including sites designated by Iraq as 'sensitive' and 'presidential.'" "Iraq has also granted the commission unrestricted access to various equipment the commission wished to inspect," Butler said. Thus, according to a November 1997 council resolution, the travel sanctions imposed on Iraqi officials for obstructing UN weapons inspections should end, the UNSCOM chairman said. US Ambassador Bill Richardson called the action "a routine matter," noting that the sanctions were never implemented. "We respect the view of Ambassador Butler. ... That's his conclusion," Richardson said. The ambassador nevertheless called attention to the UNSCOM chairman's comment that Iraq still had failed to provide access to records requested by the commission. On November 12, 1997, condemning Iraq for a pattern of blocking weapons inspections, the Security Council unanimously voted to tighten sanctions against Baghdad by targeting Iraqi officials. The action came during a period in which Iraq expelled all Americans working for UNSCOM and then escalated the problem, blocking inspections, threatening to shoot down UNSCOM reconnaissance flights, and rebuffing efforts by a special UN mission to gain access for UNSCOM experts. Adopting resolution number 1137, the council imposed an immediate travel ban on Iraqi officials and military officers who had a part in blocking the UNSCOM inspections. UNSCOM was to draw up a list of Iraqi civilian and military officials affected by the sanctions. However, the UN said that due to the pressure of escalating events between the imposition of sanctions and time the situation was defused in February 1998, no list was ever drafted. The resolution also provided that the travel ban would end one day after the UNSCOM chairman reported to the Security Council that Iraq is "allowing the special commission team immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to any and all areas, facilities, equipment, records and means of transportation ... as well as to officials and other persons ... when the commission wishes to interview." UNSCOM has been able to inspect sites previously off-limits to weapons experts after Secretary General Kofi Annan undertook a special mission to Baghdad in February 1998.