Iraq carried out its threat on Tuesday to block an arms inspection by an American-dominated team, instantly provoking calls for action in Washington and foreign capitals, and forcing the Security Council to look once again for an effective way to condemn Baghdad without threatening force.
The council, which was the focus of Tuesday’s action, reacted with a unity born of despair that Iraq had thrown another crisis in the way of accounting for its weapons of mass destruction. But no one was “making excuses for Iraq,” said a diplomat who attended the meeting.
U.S. officials, reiterating earlier warnings, said their patience was wearing thin, but did not suggest what the Security Council should do.
“It’s completely unacceptable, and we would expect that the Security Council will take the issue up and issue an appropriate condemnation of the action on the part of the Iraqis,” Secretary of Defense William Cohen said in Kuala Lumpur.
In Washington, Mike McCurry, the White House spokesman, said, “I am not going to speculate on what fashion an appropriate response will take.” He did say, however, that “it is always better to act in concert with others when we can, but there is never any reluctance to act alone if we must.”
The council is expected to issue a statement, possibly today, after diplomats have had time to consult their governments.
Cohen said President Saddam Hussein of Iraq “should not and is not in a position of being able to dictate who can conduct inspections.”
“It’s the equivalent of a parolee deciding who his parole officer is going to be,” Cohen added.
Nevertheless, when William Scott Ritter Jr., a former Marine captain, set out for work in Iraq on Tuesday, leading a team of about 33 inspectors from 12 nations, he was turned back, as the Iraqis said he would be because they are refusing once again to allow Americans to take part in weapons inspections.
On Tuesday morning an Iraqi newspaper went so far as to call Ritter a “hyena.” Usually Ritter, who served in the 1991 war against Iraq, is merely branded as an American spy.
In Baghdad on Tuesday, Ritter noted that the inspection team included scientists and technicians with expertise in chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles. He would not say whether he had requested entry to what Iraq calls “sensitive” sites.
In Washington, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said of Iraq, “We will continue to be vigilant and determined, and we do not rule out any options.” She discussed Iraq in a telephone conversation with the Russian foreign minister, Yevgeny Primakov, and planned to speak with Hubert Vedrine, the French foreign minister, American officials said.
France and Russia have been seen as nearapologists for Iraq on occasion, urging the Security Council to move faster at chipping away the sanctions that have frozen the Iraqi economy for more than seven years. But Russian and French representatives at the United Nations said on Tuesday that Iraq must not be allowed to evade its responsibilities under the agreement that established a plan for eliminating Iraqi weapons.
In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Valery Nesterushkin, said that Russia “was taking active steps to find a way out of the situation.” In November, Primakov persuaded the Iraqis to drop an earlier ban on American inspectors, apparently in return for Russia’s best efforts at speeding up the inspections and tinkering with the decision-making process in the U.N. Special Commission, which was created to disarm Iraq. The Russians tried, but were rebuffed.
The Russians did raise a number of questions on Tuesday about the functioning of the investigations. After the Security Council meeting, Sergey Lavrov, the Russian representative, said his questions were about “arithmetic.”