U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is to hold a second round of talks with Iraqi officials next month aimed at resuming U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq. But the Bush administration and some in the U.S. Congress are questioning the effectiveness of inspections in the effort to stop Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program. A series of experts recently offered their own assessments to U.S. lawmakers. VOA's Deborah Tate has the second of three reports from Capitol Hill.
A former chief of the U.N. weapons team in Iraq, David Kay, said inspectors accomplished a great deal before they were expelled in December 1998. "In the nuclear area for example, inspections destroyed more nuclear facilities than were destroyed by the coalition air forces during the Gulf War, simply because we were able to find facilities that were not known before," he said.
Mr. Kay, who is now vice president of Science Applications International Corporation, made his comments at a recent hearing of a Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee.
The Bush administration, which believes Iraq has been rebuilding its weapons programs in recent years, supports U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's efforts to return the inspectors to Iraq. But officials have expressed some skepticism as to the effectiveness of the inspections.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher noted what he called Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's tendency to hide his weapons program.
But some experts say U.N. inspectors can play a role in containing Iraq's weapons development, even if they are unable to discover and expose hidden capabilities.
Robert Einhorn is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation who is now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies here in Washington. He also testified at the Governmental affairs subcommittee hearing. "The installation of sophisticated monitoring equipment at hundreds of locations and a constant movement of inspection teams around the country would complicate Iraq's covert programs, making it somewhat harder and more expensive to keep those efforts hidden, and probably slowing the pace, and decreasing the scale of those programs," he said. "Monitors would give us a better appreciation of Iraq's missile programs and their break-out potential. They would also give us assurance, as long as they had access and their equipment was operating, that illicit production was not taking place at known dual-use and other suspect facilities."
Some U.S. lawmakers share Mr. Einhorn's view, including Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee chairman Daniel Akira, a Democrat from Hawaii. "My view at this time is that we should continue to push to get U.N. inspectors back on the ground, both to constrain the Iraqi WMD [weapons of mass destruction] program, and to gain a better understanding of the scope of current Iraqi efforts. Keeping Saddam Hussein bottled up, forcing him to confront obstacles in every direction, is not a bad outcome as we consider our long-term strategy," he said.
But other lawmakers, including Republican Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, see it differently, arguing that inspections cannot be effective if inspectors are denied full access to suspected weapons sites. "The worst thing in the world that can happen is for Saddam to let inspectors back in," he said. "I know that is what the administration is calling for, but I did not know whether they really want it or not, but I hope not, because if in fact we got back in there, it would be the same old song and dance."
It is a position shared by Richard Spertzel, a former head of the U.N. Special Commission on Biological Weapons Inspections. "Most of the proposals for getting inspectors back into Iraq are based on the premise that any inspectors are better than none. To be blunt, that is pure garbage, just an illusion to inspectors. Iraq's past behavior in restricting monitoring inspectors activities is likely to be repeated," he said. "Such limitations would make a monitoring regime a farce, which would be worse than no inspections at all, because it would provide an inappropriate illusion of compliance to the world community."
Iraq has so far resisted pressure to resume inspections. Former chief weapons inspector David Kay said not only does Iraq want to keep its weapons program secret, it views inspectors as a political threat. "Inspectors were always a political threat to the regime. We represented a visible failure (of Saddam Hussein's regime), running around Baghdad in our white buses, and our white land rovers. Though he can torture and cow the rest of Iraq into submission - here were individuals that were acting like that they were immune to Saddam's threat," he said. "For a totalitarian dictatorship, that is a virus you do not want to get started. It starts people inside your own regime thinking about changes."
The inspections are key to easing U.N. sanctions, which were imposed on Iraq after its troops invaded Kuwait in August 1990.
Many experts agree that while inspections may give the world community a better idea of what is going on in Iraq, they cannot compel Baghdad to comply with U.N. resolutions calling for an end to its weapons programs.
Former assistant secretary of state Einhorn says if Iraq allows inspectors to return, the Bush administration should seek an agreement from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council that there be a firm unified response to any Iraqi failure to give full cooperation to the inspectors.
The Bush administration is considering whether Iraq should be the next target in its war on terrorism if Baghdad does not allow weapons inspections to resume, or if Baghdad hinders the work of inspectors if they do return. Congress is also assessing the issue. VOA's Deborah Tate will have more on that in her third and final report on the threat posed by Iraq.