Resignation casts doubt on Iraq weapon inspections

Click to follow
THE FUTURE of the United Nations weapons inspection regime in Iraq was clouded last night after the sudden resignation of one of its most senior inspectors, Scott Ritter, in protest over what he says has been inaction by the Security Council in Iraq and interference by Britain and the United States in his work.

Richard Butler, the chairman of Unscom, the special commission responsible for the inspections, yesterday, insisted he still believed in the resolve of the Security Council to hold Iraq to the post-Gulf War UN resolutions. He said he and his officials would continue their work in spite of Mr Ritter's dramatic departure.

Looking uncharacteristically tired and nervous, Mr Butler made his appearance amid a whirl of reports that the UN Secretary-General himself, Kofi Annan, had lost confidence in his leadership of Unscom.

There were separate reports that Mr Ritter is under investigation by the FBI for passing on secrets about Iraq to the Israeli intelligence organisation, Mossad.

In his letter, delivered to Mr Butler late on Wednesday, Mr Ritter complained that the Security Council had failed to punish Iraq for its 5 August decision to suspend all future co-operation with Unscom until sanctions against are lifted. The inaction, he wrote, "constitutes a surrender to the Iraqi leadership" and "makes a mockery of the mission the staff of the special commission have been charged with implementing".

Among the most damaging elements of his letter was a personal attack on Mr Annan. He claimed the Secretary-General had turned himself into a "sounding board" for Iraq's grievances over the disarmament process. The Washington Post, meanwhile, cited three senior UN officials saying that Mr Annan would welcome an offer by Mr Butler to resign his post.

Fred Eckard, Mr Annan's spokesman, yesterday said the Secretary-General had "approved the appointment of Mr Butler and had stood by him throughout".

Equally explosive have been leaks over recent weeks about alleged interventions by the US and Britain in Unscom's business, pressuring it to desist from invasive inspections in Iraq in order to avoid another stand-off with Baghdad and the possibility of fresh military action in the region.

Mr Butler confirmed yesterday that he had received advice on strategy repeatedly from several interested governments but strenuously denied that any of them, including Washington and London,"crossed the line" by attempting to apply undue pressure.