Iraq: Deal allows weapons inspectors to stay, but only if they brush up their manners

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The Independent Online
AT THE heart of the agreement negotiated by Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, with the leadership in Iraq, is a carefully-weighed and vital equation: Unscom, the Special Commission established after the Gulf war in 1991 to root out biological, chemical and nuclear weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, will keep its job. But how it goes about its business will change.

As far as Britain and the United States were concerned, the survival of Unscom was a sine qua non of any new arrangement struck with Saddam Hussein. Indeed, Sir John Weston, the British ambassador to the UN, said after yesterday's consultations with Mr Annan that he would be advising London first and foremost that the work of Unscom would "remain at the centre of the process" of weapons inspection.

Moreover, it looks as though the man in charge of Unscom since last summer, the former Australian ambassador to the UN, Richard Butler, will retain his post, at least for the time being.

Iraq has made no secret of its disdain for Mr Butler, and there had been doubts even in the Security Council about the wisdom of allowing him to continue his work.

No one, however, expects Unscom to continue exactly as before.

Most obviously, Mr Annan has agreed with Saddam that when it comes to inspecting the eight presidential sites that were at the root of the latest crisis, the Unscom inspectors will no longer be allowed to do the sniffing alone. Instead, they will have to be accompanied by diplomats from member countries of the Security Council.

Members if this new sub-group of Unscom will be chosen by Mr Annan and will be headed by a new commissioner, who will also be appointed by the Secretary General.

More subtle, however, is the message contained within paragraph two of the agreement: that the UN - and by extension Unscom - will try harder to "respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq".

This is one part of the agreement that was giving the United States administration pause for thought yesterday. Washington is fearful that it will provide Saddam with a loophole to impede the actual implementation of the pact.

But Mr Annan was clear in his press briefing yesterday about what he thinks the provision means: Unscom must brush up its manners. "We on the UN side have to handle Iraq and the Iraqis with a certain amount of respect an dignity and not push their weight around."