Thursday, January 30, 2003

Iraq to Chair U.N. Disarmament Panel

Thursday, January 30, 2003
By Liza Porteus
NEW YORK — While the United States leads the charge in making sure Iraq owns up to its promises of complete disarmament, Saddam Hussein's country will head an international disarmament conference and will steer the course of the U.N. disarmament agenda this spring.

The irony has more than a few U.S. lawmakers up in arms.

"With the consideration of Iraq to head the Conference on Disarmament, the U.N. now becomes worse than any off, off, off-Broadway show. It becomes the theater of the absurd," said Republican Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona, who joined Rep. Vito Fossella, R-N.Y., Wednesday in a news conference denouncing Iraq's taking the rotating chair.

"This is ridiculous. It's like the fox watching over the hen house," Fossella said. "Iraq has zero credibility to disarm any nation when it stands in violation of U.N. resolutions because it continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. This decision will leave a permanent stain on the conference, undermine its credibility and threaten its mission to disarm nations that possess nuclear weapons."

In May, Iraq will take the helm of the U.N. Committee on Disarmament and will hold that position for one month. The co-chair will be Iran. The presidency rotates in alphabetical order.

The latest conference on disarmament — to be held in Geneva, Switzerland during Iraq's presidency — will host 66 countries, and is being billed by the United Nations as the "world's sole forum for [nuclear] disarmament."

Iraq's presidency, set to begin May 27, could follow a war in Iraq sparked by Saddam's refusal to disarm. President Bush and U.S. allies are pressuring Iraq to give up all of its weapons of mass destruction and the White House maintains every day it gets more information proving Saddam possesses banned weapons and is linked to terrorists groups like Al Qaeda.

State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said Wednesday that the U.S. is looking at its options, and called it ridiculous that Iraq could be heading a commission on disarmament.

"Iraq has, for more than 12 years, defied numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions to manning this disarmament and remains under Article 7 sanctions. Under these conditions, the United States believes it's unacceptable for Iraq to assume the presidency of the international community's main multilateral disarmament negotiating forum," Boucher said.

However, Boucher said the United States may have no options in allowing the conference to be headed by Iraq. The leadership rotates monthly in an alphabetical order, and there is no way to remove Iraq from the alphabet or the lineup.

Hayworth said that when a public official is under indictment or investigation, he or she steps aside. That same thing should happen at the United Nations.

"A modicum of common sense and international diplomacy should not be mutually exclusive," Hayworth said.

The Conference on Disarmament, established in 1979, deals with practically all multilateral arms control and disarmament problems, according to their Web site.

The conference's focus is currently on the cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament; prevention of nuclear war; arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon states don't use or threaten the use of nuclear weapons; and prohibition of new types of weapons of mass destruction and systems for using such weapons, including radiological weapons.

Previous conferences have resulted in major arms limitation and disarmament agreements, including the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and two conventions to prohibit the production, development, and stockpiling of biological and chemical weapons.

Iraq's impending presidency is just the latest controversy surrounding U.N. panels.

The U.N. Human Rights Commission human rights watchdog elected Libyan ambassador Najat Al-Hajjaji last week as its president for this year, despite concern from the United States about the country's poor record on civil liberties and its alleged role in sponsoring terrorism.

The United States had forced the unprecedented vote in the 53-nation panel after Libya was nominated by African countries, who hold the rotating chair this year. The president had been chosen by consensus in previous years. The 33-3-17 election outcome was seen as an embarrassment for the United States.

"How can Libya have the moral authority to expand human rights when it has a long and sordid history of human rights abuses and state-sponsored acts of terrorism?" Fossella asked last week, again blasting the United Nations for allowing it.

A Libyan government agent was convicted in 2001 for his role in the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which left 270 people dead. Libyan government officials were also found by German officials to have orchestrated the 1986 bombing of a dance club in West Berlin, which wounded more than 200 people and killed two U.S. servicemen.

Fox News' Teri Schultz contributed to this report.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Congress Briefed on Iraq's Links to Al Qaeda

Thursday, January 23, 2003
By Bret Baier

WASHINGTON — More than 50 senators Thursday received a closed-door briefing on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda from Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, senior defense officials told Fox News.

A large part of the discussion was what evidence should come forward or can come forward without jeopardizing current operations or future military options on the ground, one defense source said.

The defense official would not get into specifics, but said the briefing did.

Senators said later Thursday the Bush administration needs to convince the American people and U.S. allies that war may be needed against Iraq.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said the secretaries weren't notifying Congress of a decision to use military force in Iraq. The administration said that has not been determined.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said Rumsfeld and Powell laid out a stronger case than the administration had before about why force might be needed to stop Saddam. But he said the information would not be strong enough to persuade reluctant allies, like France -- and did not convince him that the United States should act against Iraq without more support.

"It would seem to me to be by far the better part of wisdom to have an aggressive inspections regime buttressed by our intelligence, so that we are providing them cues on where to go," he said.

The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin of Michigan, said the United States has just begun to share information with the U.N. inspectors. "And my view is that there is a significant way to go before we share the information," he said.

Rumsfeld told reporters as he left the Capitol "the inspectors are being provided with an enormous amount of information already."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he agrees with President Bush's handling of Iraq, but believes the president needs to explain to the American people "why we as Americans should shoulder the burden -- the money burden, the human sacrifice."

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said she was concerned about opposition from U.S. allies. "I think it would be very difficult for us to pursue this without military and monetary support," she said.

The chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said Powell will continue working with France and other countries on the U.N. Security Council after Monday's report by chief weapons inspector Hans Blix.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Friday, January 17, 2003

Inspectors Find Empty Chemical Warheads in Iraq

Friday, January 17, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq — U.N. weapons inspectors uncovered 11 empty chemical warheads in "excellent" condition in Iraq on Thursday -- materials the U.N. said were not included on a "complete" list of weapons Baghdad previously said it had in its possession.

Iraq insisted that it had reported the rockets, which it said were old and never used for chemical weapons.

Also Thursday, inspectors searched the homes of two Iraqi scientists in Baghdad for the first time. One of the them, a physicist, left with inspectors, but it was unclear if there was any connection between the home search and the discovery of the munitions.

Debate immediately began about whether the warheads constituted a material breach under U.N. Resolution 1441.

The Bush administration insisted that Iraq was violating the resolution regardless of whether the warheads are in violation.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the inspectors themselves have indicated that Iraq has failed in a number of areas to cooperate fully with U.N. Security Council requirements.

"There's no point in continuing forever, going on, if Iraq is not cooperating," Boucher said.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the administration was assessing the warhead discovery and would be deliberate about reacting to it.

The resolution stipulates Iraq must declare any banned weapons, their locations and related materials. Any false statements or the failure to cooperate "shall constitute a material breach," which could be a trigger for war.

U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the discovery may not amount to a "smoking gun" unless some sort of chemical agent is also detected. Key questions about the find are whether any chemical weapons were ever loaded into the ordnance, and, if so, when, officials said. Serial numbers on the rockets should tell inspectors where and when they were made.

The 122 mm warheads were found in bunkers built in the late 1990s at the Ukhaider Ammunition Storage Area, 75 miles south of Baghdad, Hiro Ueki, the inspectors' spokesman in Baghdad, said in a statement. The team examined one of the warheads with X-ray equipment and took away samples for chemical testing, the statement added.

Ueki told The Associated Press the shells were not accounted for in Iraq's declaration. "It was a discovery. They were not declared." He also said a 12th warhead was also found that needed further evaluation.

But Lt. Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin, the chief Iraqi liaison officer to the inspection teams, said they were short-range shells imported in 1988 and mentioned in Iraq's report. He expressed "astonishment" over what he called "no more than a storm in a teacup."

Amin said the inspectors found the munitions in a sealed box that had never been opened and was covered by dust and bird droppings.

"When these boxes were opened, they found 122 mm rockets with empty warheads. No chemical or biological warheads. Just empty rockets which are expired and imported in 1988," Amin told reporters, adding similar ordnance was found by U.N. inspectors in 1997.

David Albright, a former nuclear weapons inspector in Iraq, said the discovery would represent a violation "if Iraq knew that these warheads existed and they are for chemical weapons."

Another former inspector said that at one time, Iraq had thousands of warheads filled with chemical agents.

"Trained chemical inspectors should be able to tell pretty easily whether the rockets discovered on Thursday are designed to be filled with chemical agents," said Terry Taylor, who heads the Washington office of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

On Dec. 7, a chemical team secured a dozen artillery shells filled with mustard gas that had first been inventoried by earlier inspectors in the 1990s. Those were the first weapons of mass destruction brought under inspectors' control in the current search, which began in November.

Chief inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei have said Iraq's weapons declaration is incomplete -- failing in particular to support its claims to have destroyed missiles, warheads and chemical agents such as VX nerve gas.

The United States, which has begun a heavy military buildup in the Persian Gulf, has threatened war on Iraq if it is found to be hiding banned weapons programs. The Iraqi government says it no longer has any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons and submitted a 12,000-page declaration to the United Nations last month that it said proved its case.

During the search at the Iraqi scientists' homes, the inspectors escorted one of them to a field to examine what appeared to be a man-made mound of earth. The scientist, who carried a box of documents as he left his house, was then taken to the inspectors' hotel along with the documents and Iraqi officials.

Amin said the inspectors also asked to speak privately at their hotel with two other scientists linked to Iraq's weapons programs Thursday, but the scientists refused to be interviewed without Iraqi officials present. The inspectors did not interview the two scientists, whom Amin did not identify.

Blix and ElBaradei have stepped up demands that Iraqi improve its cooperation. Iraqis "need to be more active ... to convince the Security Council that they do not have weapons of mass destruction," Blix said, adding that the alternative is "the other avenue ... we have seen taking shape in the form of military action."

The homes searched Thursday were those of physicist Faleh Hassan and his next-door neighbor, nuclear scientist Shaker el-Jibouri, in the Baghdad neighborhood of al-Ghazalia.

It was the first time the inspectors have searched private home since they resumed their work. The team searched the homes for six hours, with experts seen going through documents at a table set up near Hassan's front door and having an animated discussion with Iraqi liaison officials.

Afterward, Hassan -- who is director of al-Razi, a military installation that specializes in laser development -- drove with the inspectors and Iraqi officials about 10 miles west of Baghdad to an agricultural area known as al-Salamiyat. There, Hassan, two inspectors and a liaison officer walked to a bare field and examined the mound of earth for about five minutes.

Inspectors did not speak to journalists and it was not clear why they were interested in the mound. An Iraqi official later said the field was a farm that Hassan sold in 1996.

After the visit, a visibly angry el-Jibouri told reporters the inspectors spent two hours in his home -- and cordoned it off for much longer -- looking into everything, "including beds and clothes."

"This is a provocative operation," he said. "They did not take away any documents but they looked at personal research papers."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

Iraq in 'Material Breach,' U.N. Ambassador Says

Thursday, January 09, 2003

UNITED NATIONS — Iraq is engaged in a "deliberate attempt to deceive" the world and is in "material breach" of the U.N. mandate that it disarm, U.N. Ambassador John Negroponte said Thursday.

Negroponte spoke at a press briefing after U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix said Iraq had violated U.N. sanctions by importing missile engines and raw material for the production of solid missile fuel.

Earlier, Blix told reporters that the inspectors have found "no smoking guns" in Iraq, but Baghdad's arms declaration to the Security Council "failed to answer a great many questions."

The Bush administration warned that Saddam Hussein is hiding evidence and will face serious consequences if he doesn't disarm.

"We know for a fact that there are weapons there," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said in Washington.

Briefing the Security Council ahead of their trip to Baghdad next week, Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said they were investigating illegal Iraqi imports of parts for its missile program and the fate of 32 tons of HMX high explosive that Iraq says was used for industrial purposes but which can also be used to detonate nuclear weapons.

Blix and ElBaradei said their teams need more time and more intelligence from U.N. members to help aid them in a search which has already taken inspectors to more than 300 sites in the past two months.

For much of the Security Council, evidence of clandestine Iraqi weapons programs would be crucial for support of any military action and members left Thursday's briefing determined to give inspectors the time they needed to get the job done.

"We're asking [the inspectors] to step up the intensity of what they're doing. But they've got to do it professionally, and they need time," British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock told reporters. German Ambassador Gunter Pleuger went a step further, saying he saw "no grounds for military action."

In a sharply-worded assessment, Blix said Iraq's 12,000-page weapons declaration was "rich in volume but poor in new information," and he told the council bluntly that "Iraq must present credible evidence," to support claims that it long ago dismantled illicit weapons programs.

"The absence of a smoking gun and the prompt access which we have had so far ... is no guarantee that prohibited stocks or activities could not exist at other sites, whether above ground, underground or in mobile units," Blix told the council.

Negroponte said cooperation needed to be about more than just "opening doors" and he said it was time for Baghdad to admit it still had such weapons of mass destruction.

"Anything less is not cooperation and will constitute further material breach," Negroponte said, using diplomatic language that could pave the way for war. The United States, backed by Britain, has threatened military action against Iraq if it does not comply with the United Nations.

Weapons inspections resumed Nov. 27 under a toughened U.N. resolution that, among other measures, allows inspectors to interview Iraqi scientists in private or even abroad, in a bid to encourage them to expose hidden programs.

ElBaradei complained Thursday that inspectors haven't been able to talk to scientists without Iraqi officials being present. "That does not show the proactive cooperation we seek," he said.

Blix said the Iraqis had failed to provide his office with a complete list of scientists he wanted interviewed. "We do not feel that the Iraqi side has made a serious effort to respond to the request that we made. The lists do not even comprise all those who have been previously listed," in past declarations, Blix said.

The inspectors noted inconsistencies throughout Iraq's declaration, in areas ranging from the fate of VX nerve gas it produced to the production and destruction of anthrax.

In Iraq, Lt. Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin rejected charges that its weapons declaration was incomplete, and he vowed to lodge an official complaint with Blix about "dubious" questions posed by members of his team during visits to suspected weapons sites.

Amin, the chief Iraqi liaison officer to the inspection teams, said that a U.N. inspector had raised the possibility of taking Iraqi scientists to Cyprus for questioning. He said scientists could decide for themselves whether to go but that they were expected to refuse.

Blix told reporters earlier that he hadn't heard of such a request but planned to conduct interviews in Baghdad next week.

Negroponte said the United States wanted inspectors "to begin out-of-country interviews."

"The burden remains on Iraq to demonstrate compliance," Negroponte said, adding that inspectors are there to "verify Iraqi disarmament, not to serve as detectives working to overcome elaborate concealment mechanisms."

The inspectors are to give a formal report on Iraq's compliance on Jan. 27. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that date should not be seen as a deadline for conflict.

"We are in the middle of a process. The U.N. inspectors have just, at the beginning of the year, got their full complement of inspectors there," Blair told government ministers in London on Thursday, according to his spokesman.

The United States and Britain have said they have intelligence showing that Baghdad has banned weapons, and Blix has previously asked for any information to help the search.

Asked whether inspectors were getting significant intelligence from the United States, Blix said: "Well, we are getting intelligence from several sources ... it's clear that this will be helpful in the future to us."

"As more intelligence comes in, there will be more sites visited. I'm confident that we will get more intelligence," he said.

French President Jacques Chirac, two days after telling his armed forces to be ready "for all eventualities," said Thursday he hoped the Iraq crisis would be resolved peacefully, with military action only as a last resort.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.