U.N. inspectors enter Iraqi presidential site
March 26, 1998
A convoy of U.N. arms inspectors and diplomats departs on a mission
to inspect Iraqi presidential sites
Web posted at: 4:43 a.m. EST (0943 GMT)
BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- United Nations weapons
inspectors entered Baghdad's Radwaniyah Palace on Thursday on
their first visit to an Iraqi "presidential site" in seven
years of work.
Witnesses saw a large convoy of U.N. Special Commission
(UNSCOM) inspectors, accompanied by diplomats and Iraqi escorts,
turn off Baghdad's airport road into a security area around the
Radwaniyah site at 10 a.m. (0700 GMT).
The diplomats were accompanying the inspectors under an
accord signed by Iraq last month which defused a major crisis
and averted the threat of imminent air strikes against Iraq.
Under the accord Iraq pledged to allow UNSCOM inspectors,
charged with dismantling its weapons of mass destruction, into
the sites where they suspect Iraq may have concealed material
related to its banned weapons programmes.
"I am hopeful, confident and optimistic that with goodwill
on all sides we will be able to implement the memorandum of
understanding signed by (U.N.) Secretary-General (Kofi Annan)
and Iraq," Jayantha Dhanapala, the U.N. undersecretary for
disarmament, said before he was due to lead the inspection.
'...assisting UNSCOM...' with diplomacy
An aerial view of the Radwaniya palace complex
The inspectors entered the Radwaniyah complex, on the edge
of Saddam International Airport about 15 km (9 miles) west of
central Baghdad, in a convoy of at least 20 UNSCOM vehicles and
more than a dozen escort cars from Iraq's National Monitoring
Twenty senior diplomats are gathered in Baghdad to accompany
the inspectors, addressing Iraq's request that its symbols of
national sovereignty be respected during the inspections.
They had said they all expected to accompany the inspectors
on Thursday's mission because of the scale of the Radwaniyah
complex, one of the largest of the eight presidential sites
which has hosted visiting dignitaries.
U.N. diplomats on a bus en route to Radwaniya palace
"We will play the role of assisting UNSCOM as a means of
guaranteeing the sovereignty and dignity of the country,"
Italian diplomat Pietro Cordone told reporters before heading to
UNSCOM headquarters on the outskirts of Baghdad.
"We are observers, not inspectors," said Horst Holthoff, a
retired German diplomat.
U.N. officials say Iraq was informed on Wednesday night that
an inspection would be taking place on Thursday.
"We notified the Iraqis only yesterday evening. They don't
know which one we are going to," one official said before the
Low expectations for a surpise discovery
UNSCOM officials, who believe Iraq is still concealing
material related to banned chemical, biological or ballistic
weapons, say they have few expectations of finding any
incriminating material on their first visits.
But they say the baseline inspections are important both to
gather information for future checks and also to cement the
principle of unfettered access for their work.
The "baseline" visits which aim to inspect and survey the
eight presidential sites in detail for possible future
inspections are expected to be completed by around April 5.
Diplomats said the inspectors would conduct detailed
internal and external surveys of the sites while a helicopter
surveyed them from the air. The sites, scattered from the Gulf
port of Basra in southern Iraq to Mosul 950 km (600 miles) to
the north, will be visited one by one.
Iraq last year said it had drawn a red line around the
presidential sites and that the U.N. Special Commission
inspectors, charged with dismantling its weapons of mass
destruction, would never be allowed into them.
Its refusal to allow them access precipitated a crisis which
almost triggered heavy punitive strikes from an armada of U.S.
military forces gathered in the Gulf.
Iraq needs a clean bill of health from UNSCOM before
economic sanctions, imposed for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, can
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