UN chief rounds on critics of peace deal

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The Independent Online
BUFFETED by furious criticism from some quarters in Washington, the United Nations yesterday launched an impassioned defence of the agreement reached last weekend by the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, with Saddam Hussein on continuing weapons inspections.

Aware that some are portraying him as an apologist for President Saddam, Mr Annan himself distributed a letter to UN staff saying it was "not unexpected that there would be some criticism of us and misrepresentations".

With obvious impatience, he added: "We should all await the Security Council action on this agreement. It is the Council, not a few critics, who will have the last word."

Britain last night circulated a first draft of a resolution that it hopes will be adopted by the full Council in the next few days enshrining the language of Mr Annan's agreement.

Provisions in it warn Iraq that it will face the "severest consequences" if the pact is violated. This might provoke strong opposition from Council members more sympathetic to Baghdad, including France and Russia.

Mr Annan noted in his statement that the alternative to striking a deal with President Saddam would have been the effective end of the work of Unscom, the UN commission seeking out weapons of mass destruction in Iraq since the end of the Gulf War.

He did not bother to add what else might have happened had he returned home empty-handed - a fresh military conflagration in the region.

n a carefully orchestrated rebuttal to the criticism from Washington, the UN also fielded the chairman of Unscom Richard Butler, of Australia, to say his own words in support of the deal.

Mr Butler denied suggestions that provisions in the agreement would have the effect of weakening the commission.

He was referring in particular to arrangements whereby diplomats will accompany technical inspectors whenever they enter eight presidential sites designated as especially sensitive by Iraq. "As far as I am concerned I welcome it. I view it as strengthening Unscom," Mr Butler insisted. As regards the diplomats, he said: "Those arrangements are entirely satisfactory to me."

It was confirmed, meanwhile, that Mr Annan was appointing a veteran disarmament specialist from Sri Lanka, Jayantha Dhanapala, 59, as the new Unscom commissioner who will oversee the diplomats shepherding the inspectors into the presidential sites.

Mr Dhanapala, who is respected and popular in UN circles, will report first to Mr Butler who will retain overall control over Unscom.

Notably, Mr Butler expressed optimism that the new deal with President Saddam would be made to work and said in those circumstances he hoped that the current phase of the commission's work - discovering and destroying weapons - could be completed in "a relatively short time". It would be thereafter that the UN could begin considering lifting sanctions against Iraq.