New evidence of an Iraqi military buildup has helped the United States beat back an effort to lift United Nations sanctions against Baghdad, senior administration officials said Saturday.
They said the Clinton administration had shared intelligence data, including satellite photos, with other Security Council members to show President Saddam Hussein has been rebuilding factories that could produce chemical weapons or missiles as well as integrating stolen Kuwaiti missiles and armored vehicles into the Iraqi army.
The photos also show that the Iraqi leader has spent billions on new presidential palaces while pleading poverty as a reason for allowing Iraq to resume oil sales, as France and Russia have urged.
The officials said Madeleine K. Albright, Washington’s delegate to the United Nations returned Friday from a weeklong mission to seven countries certain that the United States had 10 votes, enough to maintain the current sanctions.
France and Russia, Iraq’s closest partners before its invasion of Kuwait in 1990, supported quietly by China, have argued for nearly a year that Iraq is on the verge of complying with Security Council demands to eliminate key weapons programs and therefore should have the legal right to export its oil on the open market.
The United States and Britain have strongly disagreed, insisting on maximum Iraqi compliance with U.N. demands without spelling out exactly what Saddam must do if he wants to sell oil.
But over the past few months, support for the U.S.-British position has waned. A number of Security Council members, eager to do business with Iraq and to relieve the suffering of the Iraqi people, have become convinced the Security Council should consider easing the ban on oil sales.
In anticipation of a FrenchRussian initiative in the Security Council within the next several weeks, Albright held face-to-face meetings or telephone conversations with nine Security Council members.
She was accompanied by a U.S. intelligence official who dazzled foreign officials with an array of satellite photos showing that Saddam has poured billions of dollars into rebuilding Iraq’s military and governmental infrastructure, administration officials said.
One photograph showed that Saddam had rebuilt the country’s largest chemical weapons production plant, which was destroyed in the Persian Gulf war in 1991. Another set of photographs showed that Iraq had rebuilt two major ballistic missile factories, one near Mosul and the other in southern Iraq.
Albright said that if Iraq received large amounts of money from selling oil, and if international inspectors were not on the ground in Iraq to monitor weapons programs, the country would be able to resume full-scale chemical weapons production within two years and ballistic missile production within one year.
Other photographs showed equipment that Iraq had stolen from Kuwait and incorporated into the Iraqi military, including Russian-made Frog-7 missiles and hundreds of BMP-2 armored vehicles.
The armored vehicles have been given to the elite al-Nida Republican Guard unit, which was among those Saddam sent to his southern border last October in what the Clinton administration believed was an effort to intimidate Kuwait.
Another set of photographs showed some of the lavish palaces and villas that Saddam has built for himself and his senior aides, including one palace near Lake Tharthar that is eight times bigger than the White House, and another complex near Saddam’s birthplace in Tikrit, which includes a massive sports center for use by Saddam’s family.
“We don’t have any problem with a leader of a country building palaces,” Albright told her hosts. “But we do have a problem with a leader doing that and then crying crocodile tears for his people.”
(STORY CAN END HERE. OPTIONAL MATERIAL FOLLOWS)The United States estimates that
since the end of the Persian Gulf war, Saddam has built 48 residences or buildings for his ruling elite at an estimated cost of between $1.5 billion and $2 billion.
Other intelligence reports cited by Albright included evidence that Iraq has tried as recently as late last year to import key components for making missiles, including ammonium perchlorate for solid rocket propellant and gyroscopes for missile guidance systems.
Albright also noted that Iraq has refused to account for more than 600 Kuwaitis missing since the gulf war, that it has destroyed at least 700 hamlets in the mostly Shiite south since the end of the war and has imposed an economic blockade of parts of the Kurdish north for more than three years.
The Clinton administration’s campaign coincides with reports last Monday by a U.N. inspector, Rolf Ekeus, that Iraq has concealed evidence of a biological weapons program that sought to develop tuberculosis, cholera and the plague.