Iraqi interference is rising, U.N. arms inspector says Baghdad toughens stance on granting entry to site of ruling political party


UNITED NATIONS -- The chief arms inspector for Iraq has told the Security Council in a letter that the Iraqis have been interfering with inspections at a number of sites. And yesterday, Baghdad toughened its stand against allowing entry to the ruling party's offices, in contravention of council resolutions.

In his letter, the chief inspector also said the Iraqis had refused to explain why and where equipment and micro-organisms thought to be associated with a biological weapons program had been moved during a break in inspections last month.

Officials in Washington said the Iraqis were on their way to creating a very serious situation, but refrained from an imminent threat of force. On Nov. 15, after Saddam Hussein lifted a ban on arms inspections, President Clinton said any new obstructions could be met with a military force.

In Baghdad yesterday, Hussein's government declared that political sites were off-limits to inspectors.

A senior official of Hussein's Baath Party stood on the steps of a building that inspectors were barred from entering Wednesday and announced that they would never be permitted access. Iraq is required under council resolutions to allow inspectors to go anywhere they wish to search for weapons material or documents.

"The answer would be the same," said Latif Nsayif Jassim, when asked what would have happened if inspectors had returned yesterday, which they apparently did not. "This is a party. Political parties are not included."

The Iraqis also stalled for 45 minutes the start of an inspection at another location.

In his letter to the council, Richard Butler, the chairman of the commission charged with disarming Iraq, detailed Iraq's recent acts of noncooperation, including a bar on photographing bombs Saturday and an Iraqi decision the day before not to allow inspections on Fridays, the Muslim holy day.

Butler also told the council that Saturday, during an investigation concerning biological weapons, "the Iraqi representatives made efforts to prevent videotaping and interrupted and sought to direct site personnel's responses." The Iraqis also tried, but failed, to stop inspectors from photocopying documents.

At the same location, Butler said, the director of the Iraqi project under investigation said that none of his employees were allowed to answer the inspectors' questions.

In Washington, Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, said he agreed with Butler in calling the situation "very serious." But he said the administration wanted more time to study a full report on inspections expected next week.

Although diplomats here, including those from the United States and Britain, do not expect military action soon, they say that the Iraqis are isolating themselves again from their would-be defenders on the Security Council, among them France.

At the State Department, a spokesman said that the first casualty of the Iraqis' defiance would be the comprehensive review of sanctions promised by the Security Council three weeks ago.

Pub Date: 12/11/98

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