Agence France Presse
December 10, 2002 Tuesday
SECTION: Domestic, non-Washington, General News
HEADLINE: US upsets Security Council by seizing Iraq's arms declaration
BYLINE: ROBERT HOLLOWAY
DATELINE: UNITED NATIONS, Dec 9
The United States upset other Security Council members by removing the only complete copy of Iraq's declaration of its weapons of mass destruction from UN headquarters soon after it arrived, diplomats said Monday.
Diplomats here said not all 15 council members were consulted before a US
official took the declaration -- containing almost 12,000 printed pages and
several computer disks -- from the office of chief UN arms inspector Hans Blix
shortly after it arrived late Sunday.
"There were no face-to-face consultations, and many members are upset," one diplomat said.
The only one prepared to say so publicly, Syrian Ambassdor Mikhail Wehbe, said the act was "in contradiction with every kind of logic in the Security Council and against the unity of the council." UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who had only just earlier learned of the incident, said: "The council is master of its own deliberations. If the council decided to do that, it is their right and I will not quibble with that."
In Washington, US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher defended the US action, saying the documents contained sensitive data. "We have been asked to ensure that the document is copied in a controlled environment in order to guard against the inadvertent release of information," he said.
Iraq Saturday gave two copies of the declaration to UN inspectors in Baghdad, one day before the deadline set by council Resolution 1441, which warned of "serious consequences" if it gave a partial or inaccurate account of its weapons programmes.
One copy was broken up, and an official of the international Atomic Energy Agency took 2,100 pages dealing with Iraq's nuclear weapons programme to the agency's headquarters in Vienna.
The UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission took the parts detailing Iraq's chemical and biological weapons and long-range missiles, which were brought to Blix's office here, together with the remaining complete copy, under seal for the Security Council.
Several sources who asked not to be identified said three hours later, a US official, accompanied by the council president, Alfonso Valdivieso of Colombia, took the documents away. The documents were not signed for and Valdivieso did not even lay a hand on them, the sources said.
Valdivieso later issued a statement saying that, after consulting council members, he had decided that members with special expertise in weapons proliferation -- in other words the nuclear-armed permanent five -- would get the declaration first.
The statement did not specifically mention the five permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States. It said "members with the expertise to assess the risk of proliferation and other sensitive information" would assist UN inspectors "in producing a working version of the declaration as soon as possible."
One source described Valdivieso's statement as "a fig leaf" to justify giving the declaration to the United States. A US official said the decision to restrict distribution of the unedited
declaration to five council members was justified by the fact that it might contain information enabling a country to produce nuclear weapons.
But a representative of one of the 10 non-permanent council members said: "If there is any sensitive material it is probably that which will determine whether Iraq is in material breach of council resolutions."
Such material would have to be shared with other council members before a decision was taken on the "serious consequences" threatened by Resolution 1441, the diplomat said. Inspectors already have begun studying the material, Annan spokesman Fred
In Tokyo, IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei said he expected to make a preliminary assessment of the chapters on Iraq's nuclear programme within10days and that he would report to the council by January 27.