U.S. may resist arms checks
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|Mon, 04-14-2003 - 7:17pm|
Monday, April 14, 2003
By WILLIAM J. BROAD
THE NEW YORK TIMES
The Bush administration may be legally bound to let independent inspectors confirm any findings of unconventional weapons in Iraq, administration and independent arms experts said. But they added that the White House, which has resisted help from the United Nations in the search for weapons, might decide to ignore such legalities.
The administration is debating its obligations under arms control treaties that govern chemical, biological and nuclear arms, an official involved in the discussions said in a recent interview.
"If we gain control, then theoretically they're ours," the official said of Iraqi unconventional arms. "Someone could argue that because we now own them, we have to meet all the requirements" of the weapon treaties, which predate recent U.N. inspections of Iraq.
The official added that the Pentagon, which has responsibility for any discovered Iraqi arms, wants no outside help. "But people are thinking about that," he added. "Although the current guidance is not to plan to operate with an international organization, that doesn't mean that won't change."
A White House official said the Bush administration would have no public comment on the debate over independent inspectors.
Outside the government, weapons experts have argued for the United States to let international inspectors help identify and destroy any unconventional weapons discovered in Iraq. They argue that independent confirmation would help convince skeptics that the war was just.
Washington cited the need to disarm Iraq as the main reason for the invasion. Yet so far no clear evidence has come to light demonstrating that Iraq possessed such prohibited weapons.
For weeks, advancing troops have reported signs of chemical arms: gas masks, protective suits, nerve gas antidotes, training manuals, barrels of suspicious chemicals and a cache of mysterious shells. None of the chemicals have been proven to be warfare agents, rather than pesticides or other legitimate chemicals.
Administration and private experts said one treaty that may require letting independent inspectors into Iraq is the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, which 150 nations, including the United States, signed.
The treaty bars the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical arms. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague, Netherlands, polices the treaty around the globe and in the United States, which is slowly destroying its old stockpiles of chemical arms.
Although Iraq did not sign the treaty, several experts said the United States, by taking possession of Iraqi chemical arms, would fall under its provisions even though the treaty makes no explicit reference to the responsibilities of a victor in war.
The nuclear issue is clearer, legal experts agreed. That is because Iraq signed the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, which aims to bar the spread of nuclear weapons. The treaty's enforcement arm, the International Atomic Energy Agency, based in Vienna, Austria, has teams of inspectors that regularly checked Iraq's nuclear facilities before the war.
Thomas Graham Jr., general counsel of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency during the Carter, Reagan and first Bush administrations, said there was no question that the United States had to let in IAEA inspectors. "If we didn't," he said, "we'd be accessory to a violation."
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