Iraq weapons review tests UN resolve over sanctions

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THE UNITED Nations Security Council meets today to discuss the future of weapons inspections in Iraq at a moment when support for sanctions is weaker than at any time since they were imposed eight years ago.

Baghdad says that it considers the six-monthly report from the UN weapons inspectors as a critical test of the willingness of the Security Council to end the embargo imposed after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

The Security Council will not consider ending sanctions until Iraq allows the UN inspectors to resume investigations of Iraqi weapons sites from which they were banned in August. But Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, has offered Iraq an "overall review" of its compliance with UN resolutions if it allows the inspectors to resume their work.

The Annan proposals suggest that in future the inspectors would have to produce evidence to back up their claims about Iraqi weapons. Previously Iraq had to prove that it did not have the weapons. Peter Burleigh, the US deputy ambassador, criticised the new approach, saying it was tantamount to "turning arms control procedures on their head".

While the US and Britain argue for a continuation of sanctions, they are increasingly isolated. A confrontation over the inspections was defused by Mr Annan in February when he visited Baghdad, but another crisis is likely to erupt if Iraq does not see hope of sanctions ending.

The credibility of the UN Special Committee (Unscom) investigating Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was seriously damaged by revelations by Scott Ritter, the chief investigator who resigned last month, that the inspectors were drawing on Israeli intelligence for their information.

Iraq's options in a renewed crisis are limited, but they include ending UN monitoring of facilities which could be used to produce biological, chemical or nuclear weapons or the means to deliver them.

Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein's half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti, one of the most powerful members of the Baghdad regime, has denied his failure to return home means he is splitting with the Iraqi government. He was Iraq's ambassador to the UN in Geneva from 1989 until August.

In an interview with the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, he said: "I am staying here with my family and this is with the knowledge of the president and due to his understanding of my family situation."

Mr Barzan's wife is said to be seriously ill.