November 12, 1997 in Nation/World

U.N. Security Council Close To Travel Ban On Iraq Officials U.S. Agrees To Go-Slow Approach To Gain Full Support For Resolution

Craig Turner Los Angeles Times

Faced with Iraq’s continued blockade of U.N. weapons inspectors, the Security Council appeared close to agreement Tuesday on a U.S.-backed proposal to clamp an immediate travel ban on top-level Iraqi officials and to warning of unspecified “further measures” if Baghdad does not back down.

The United States and Britain proposed the travel prohibition - seen here as a minimal measure - when it became apparent they could not win support on the council for firmer actions or a threat to use military force against Iraq.

In the interests of gaining unanimous, or at least near-unanimous, Security Council backing for the resolution, which could come to a vote as soon as today, the United States agreed to the go-slow approach favored by France and Russia. Those two Persian Gulf War allies of the United States have been reluctant to strike hard at Iraq, favoring persuasion over intimidation.

Bill Richardson, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, stressed the council’s unity in sending what he called “an unmistakable signal to Iraq” to retreat.

“We believe the resolution that’s just been advanced has overwhelming support,” Richardson said. “It’s a resolution that has teeth, that has united the Security Council once again.”

He declined to speculate what might happen if Iraq continues to defy the council. The United States and Britain have refused to rule out military action, even if they have to take it alone.

Meanwhile the dispute over the inspections remained at impasse Tuesday. Iraqi authorities once again prohibited the Baghdad-based inspection teams from visiting weapons sites as long as Americans participated in the investigation. And the United Nations again refused to exclude the U.S. members.

Iraq has said it will not cooperate with the disarmament commission, which is charged with eliminating Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s ability to wage nuclear, biological or chemical warfare, until all American participants are expelled from the country and the United Nations ends flights by an American U-2 reconnaissance plane on loan to the United Nations. The world body says those conditions are unacceptable.

Iraq Deputy Prime Minister Tarik Aziz said Tuesday that neither side has moved in his two days of talks here. Aziz added that he would relay to Baghdad a message from Chinese Ambassador Qin Huasun, president of the Security Council this month, that the council is unified in urging Iraq to change its policy. But Aziz made clear that he does not expect a reversal.

Aziz, who has been asking to address the council on Iraq’s grievances with the weapons commission, probably will get his chance on the day of the vote. Council rules permit nations that would be affected by a resolution to speak just before or after the balloting.

The proposed resolution would prohibit international travel by Iraqi political and military officials identified by the weapons commission as obstructing the inspections. It would be lifted one day after commission leader Richard Butler of Australia certifies that the inspectors no longer are being impeded.

The proposal also condemns Iraq for its stance and expresses the council’s “firm intention to take further measures” unless it relents.

Under the agreement ending the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the commission must certify that Iraq has eliminated its weapons of mass destruction before the Security Council can lift the oil sales embargo and other economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations beginning with Iraq’s invasion of neighboring Kuwait in 1990.

Although the 15 council members are unified in their denunciation of Iraq’s ultimatum, there is division, particularly among the council’s powerful five permanent members, over the best way to force Baghdad back into compliance. Russia and France favor a combination of threats against and incentives to Baghdad, but not military action, while the United States and Britain adopt a harder line. China as a matter of policy generally opposes sanctions and military action, but rarely exercises the veto it has as one of the council’s five permanent members to thwart their use.

In Washington, President Clinton used a Veterans Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery to demand an end to Iraq’s interference with arms inspectors who, he said, “are doing what they should be doing. They must get back to work, and the international community must demand it.”

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, meanwhile, called off a scheduled trip to Asia to remain in Washington.

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