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Spy Scandal Has Reduced America's Control of Mission

18 September 2002

The United States will find it hard to control the United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq as it once did because of changes made after a US spying scandal.

The last weapons inspectorate, known as UNSCOM, was closed down in 1999 after it emerged that Washington had used American members of its inspection teams to spy on Iraq. The new inspection agency, known as UNMOVIC, was deliberately designed to reduce the Americans overwhelming influence thus making it more difficult for Washington to provoke a crisis if it so desires.

In the new body, Americans play a reduced role in planning inspection missions and, unlike its predecessor, it will not use US Government staff.

Perhaps the most telling change was the abolition of the powerful post of deputy chairman, which was always held by an American. The highest-ranking American in the agency now has a relatively lowly job, in charge of the training division. The key post of activity evaluation is held by a Chinese official. That of liaising with foreign governments and companies is held by a Russian.

Another key reform is that the inspectors no longer use US spy satellites, but employ commercial satellite companies instead.

But there have been many more subtle innovations, such as giving all new inspectors cultural sensitivity training.

The changes were all part of a grand diplomatic bargain struck after the withdrawal of UNSCOM inspectors in 1998, when it emerged that American members had planted bugs and even installed a safe in the UN office in Baghdad containing communications equipment to beam information up to satellites.

The original UN ceasefire terms at the end of the 1991 Gulf War were clear: Iraq could get sanctions lifted only in return for full co-operation in eliminating its weapons of mass destruction.

The 1999 resolution that established UNMOVIC, however, sketched the new deal in less rigid terms: The suspension but not lifting of sanctions in return for progress on key remaining disarmament tasks .

UNMOVIC now has a roster of 220 trained inspectors from 44 countries including Steven Hatfill, the former US government researcher whose home has been searched repeatedly by the FBI in connection with the investigation into last year s anthrax attacks.

Mr Blix met Iraqi officials last night and was due to brief the UN Security Council on his talks with them today.

James Bone, New York
© 2002 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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