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UN Security Council Approves UNMOVIC Plan
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May 2000

By Matthew Rice

Moving toward re-establishing an inspections regime in Iraq, Hans Blix submitted an organizational plan April 6 for the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). Confirming the broad vision that he announced March 1 when he assumed his position as executive chairman of the organization, Blix's plan maintains a commitment to on-site, no-notice inspections as a vital tool for ensuring Iraq's compliance with UN-mandated disarmament obligations. The UN Security Council quickly approved the plan.

In his March 1 press conference, Blix had stressed that UNMOVIC would seek to undertake necessary inspections without embarrassing Iraq. The organizational plan is clear, however, that concern for Iraq's dignity cannot and does not obviate the need for short- or no-notice inspections. Noting that "the credibility and effectiveness of all inspection and monitoring increase decisively with decreases in lead times," the plan argues that "the right to free and prompt access is essential to the discharge by UNMOVIC of its responsibilities."

Blix's next step would be to set up the Baghdad Ongoing Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Centre, the locus for UNMOVIC's activities inside Iraq. But, as yet, there is little public indication that Iraq has budged in its refusal to accept the provisions of Resolution 1284, which established UNMOVIC and offers sanctions relief in exchange for cooperation with arms inspectors. Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz reiterated April 17 that Iraq has no intention of allowing inspectors to return to the country.

Acknowledging uncertainty about the future of Iraq's compliance with Resolution 1284, Blix proposed two phases of recruitment for UNMOVIC staff. A small core will be hired immediately to prepare for the beginning of full inspections and monitoring, and a full complement of inspection teams and support personnel will be added when the operation truly gets underway. The plan states that it "endeavors to keep the commission 'lean', in the sense of keeping the staffing level no higher than is strictly necessary for the performance of [UNMOVIC's] responsibilities."

Recalling the January 1999 allegations of inappropriate cooperation between U.S. intelligence officials and UNMOVIC's predecessor, the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), UNMOVIC will only receive intelligence data from UN member states, not supply it to them, in order to carry out its mandate. This does not prohibit dialogue for the purposes of clarification, the plan states, but "the flow of intelligence must be one-way only." .

As an additional precaution, UNMOVIC staff will be required to observe strict confidentiality requirements and to "neither see nor receive instructions from any Government." UNSCOM staff will be encouraged to apply for positions with UNMOVIC in order to "minimize the loss of momentum and knowledge that has inevitably occurred during the long absence of inspection and monitoring."

Compared to recent Security Council debates about Iraq, the approval of the UNMOVIC plan appears to have gone relatively smoothly. The report was carefully worded, with emphasis placed on the rights and mandate accorded to UNMOVIC by relevant council resolutions, and with little discussion of the substance of remaining disarmament goals or specific procedures for inspections.

As the specifics of the work program become clear, however, disputes are likely to re-emerge. Russia, in particular, insisted the council's acceptance of the plan not be taken as the final word on the implementation of Resolution 1284. In an April 14 letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Sergey Lavrov, Russia's representative to the UN, complained that the plan lacked "a significant political component" that would make it possible to avoid conflict with Iraq. Russia's acceptance of UNMOVIC's work "will depend on the specific form that the plans being proposed take," Lavrov wrote.

The first UNMOVIC report to the Security Council, expected in early June, may address these substantive issues more directly. Blix plans to meet for the first time with the UNMOVIC College of Commissioners in late May.