Letter: UN goal posts

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Richard Butler, chief United Nations weapons inspector would seem to have again moved the goal posts for the lifting of the embargo on Iraq. The stumbling block last February was inspections of the presidential palaces, but now a new set of conditions has evolved ("Saddam and West back to the brink ..." 5 August).

Further, the crisis in February was due directly to Mr Butler's assessment that Iraq had enough chemicals and biological weapons to affect every one on earth. One vial the size of a small finger, could decimate the population of London, we were told. When the crisis was over, Mr Butler, in an interview with the BBC, was posed the question: "A month ago we nearly went to war with Iraq on your word that Iraq had enough chemical and biological weapons to affect the entire world. Is this true?" After considerable silence, Butler replied: "This is what we are trying to find out."

Richard Butler's statement that Iraq has developed VX nerve gas, another reason for further inspections, is faithfully parroted in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Daily Bulletin (4 August). It may or may not be true, but the evidence for this came from a United States military laboratory, with no independent scientists present. It is for that reason that further tests in France and Switzerland were agreed and as yet there is no outcome on these tests. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office also reiterates Mr Butler's statement that there are 4,000 chemical weapons unaccounted for. This, again, may or not be the case, but another new goal post is that the documentation now demanded embraces the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war when both Britain and the US were supplying, in effect, both sides - a war with carnage that has been compared to the First World War and from which a great deal is unaccounted for in paperwork, weapons and human beings.

Israel's Prime Minister talked of the worry of the entire world: "We like everyone else are watching this thing carefully and we know what to do." Yet Israel has never officially acknowledged having nuclear weapons, has decimated Southern Lebanon, where it only this week tried out a new missile, killing one person - and is never subject to serious pressure or censure from the United Nations.

Britain with US funds is to assist Iraqi opposition groups here, many of whom have less than unblemished reputations. "We will work with anyone who is against Saddam." Hardly a recipe for democracy in Iraq.

In February, in the Middle East, it was assessed that more British than American flags were burnt. I was there and the anger was tangible - and in spite of diplomatic efforts from the West - united. Such double standards and another assault on Iraqi civilians (in defiance of even the Geneva Convention) will ring on down the generations in the Middle East and the developing world, and the words "ethical foreign policy" will, I predict, head the chapters.

FELICITY ARBUTHNOT

London E9

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