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USIS Washington 
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27 July 1999

Security Council Allows Destruction of VX Samples in Iraq

(Moscow's objections delayed closing of UNSCOM lab) (430)
By Judy Aita
USIA United Nations Correspondent

United Nations -- After a week of lengthy closed-door debate, the
Security Council July 27 agreed to allow seven vials of the deadly
nerve gas VX in a U.N. lab in Baghdad to be destroyed.

The U.N. Special Commission overseeing the destruction of Iraqi
weapons (UNSCOM) had asked for permission to destroy the VX along with
test samples of mustard gas, sarin, Tabun and precursor chemicals used
to manufacture them at its Baghdad laboratory before summer power
shortages. However UNSCOM arms inspectors, accused by Baghdad of being
spies, had not been allowed in the country since December. Therefore
the United Nations asked the Organization for the Prohibition of
Chemical Weapons (OPCW) based in The Hague to organize a team of
experts to dismantle the UNSCOM lab.

The OPCW team was to complete its work on July 25, but stayed behind
waiting for the council decision.

Russia, backed at times by France and China, has opposed the
destruction of the vials, arguing that the samples should be preserved
in order to determine whether UNSCOM arms inspectors contaminated
Iraqi warheads with the samples in an attempt to plant evidence
against Iraq. The three complained that UNSCOM had hidden the fact
that the seven VX vials were in the laboratory and three of them were
opened.

(Iraq admitted producing almost 4 tons of VX, but said it unilaterally
destroyed the nerve gas. In 1998 a U.S. laboratory found VX traces on
warhead fragments. Subsequent tests by other laboratories in Europe
failed to conclusively end the debate over whether Iraq had armed any
warheads with VX.)

An UNSCOM chemical weapons expert told the council that the chemicals
at the laboratory were used as test standards to calibrate testing
equipment and that the quantity in the vials was too little to
contaminate Iraqi warheads. UNSCOM officials also said that there was
no way the VX samples in the UNSCOM lab could be matched to VX found
anywhere else in Iraq.

A majority of the council agreed with UNSCOM and Council President
Agam Hasmy of Malaysia decided there was not enough support in the
council to change the decision to destroy the samples. The council
made no public announcement that the debate had been resolved.

Diplomats said that Russia dropped its opposition to the destruction
of the chemical weapons samples after other council members agreed
that UNSCOM officials would answer questions about the laboratory.