- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2000

NEW YORK U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan yesterday nominated Swedish diplomat Rolf Ekeus to another term as chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, handing the highly politicized disarmament effort over to a deeply divided Security Council.

Russia immediately said it would oppose the nomination and the United Nations set discussions on the Ekeus nomination for today.

The decision to nominate Mr. Ekeus, who is currently Sweden's ambassador to Washington, caps a frustrating month of discussions among Mr. Annan, the council members and their capitals.

"Over 30 days, he raised something like 25 names, and he could not find one on which all could agree. So he put forward the name of the person he thought would be best for the job," said Frederic Eckhard, Mr. Annan's chief spokesman. "He is putting the ball in their court."

The United States and Britain support Mr. Ekeus, 62, who served as the original chairman for the U.N. Special Commission, or UNSCOM, from 1991 to 1997.

However, China, France and Russia have repeatedly rejected the Swedish diplomat, and their reservations could lead to another stalemate.

Diplomats said the council is likely to meet this morning, but several indicated a decision would not be made quickly.

"We are likely to need more discussion," said Chen Ranfeng," spokesman for the Chinese Mission here.

He noted that "to ensure the full implementation [of council resolutions], you need Iraq's cooperation. The new chairman should be able to work together with the Iraqis."

Russia, meanwhile, objects to Mr. Ekeus "mainly because he is associated with the former Special Commission on Iraq, and our position on that is well known," said a Russian spokesman.

France acknowledged earlier concerns, but said that it would not comment until today.

In December, the council created the U.N. Monitoring and Verification Commission, or UNMOVIC, as a successor to the U.N. Special Commission which was effectively neutralized after U.S. and British air strikes in December 1998.

Both groups are to find and destroy banned weapons of mass destruction, including chemical, biological and nuclear warheads.

Once Iraq has proven it will cooperate with UNMOVIC, the 8-year-old sanctions regime is to be eased, and eventually eliminated.

The council has already lifted the limit on how much oil Iraq is allowed to export, but a special committee continues to pore over every import, looking for goods that could aid the proscribed weapons program.

Iraq immediately dismissed the nomination, comparing Mr. Ekeus' nomination to "putting old wine in new bottles."

"If they are supposed to be setting up a new committee, how could they bring back the person who founded the old committee and make him chairman of the new committee?" Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz told reporters yesterday in Spain.

When UNMOVIC finally does get up and running, it will have a lot of work to do.

Baghdad had refused to cooperate with inspectors until last week, when it announced it would allow a visit by scientists from the International Atomic Energy Agency. UNSCOM officials warn that their remote sensing network has probably been dismantled.

Some observers are fearful that Iraq has used its year without oversight to rebuild and hide its capability to build and use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

The new head of UNMOVIC will replace Richard Butler, a blunt-spoken Australian who had antagonized the Iraqis and faced allegations that he had cooperated with American intelligence.

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