- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2001

Vice President Richard B. Cheney says it is uncertain whether the easing of U.N. sanctions on Iraq would require the return of U.N. weapons inspectors to check if Saddam Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction.
When asked yesterday on NBCs "Meet the Press" about possible changes to the sanctions regime on Iraq being considered in the U.N. Security Council next week, Mr. Cheney said the United States "would continue to demand inspections" but suggested it could accept their loss — a sweeping reversal of previous U.S. policy.
In the past, this country has always set a return of U.N. weapons inspectors — who were removed from Iraq in late 1998 in anticipation of U.S. bombing raids — as a condition for easing the sanctions imposed on Iraq a decade ago as punishment for invading Kuwait and starting the Persian Gulf war.
Before the inspectors were withdrawn, Saddam said he would no longer cooperate with them. After they left, a state-run Iraqi newspaper said Baghdad would tolerate crippling sanctions rather than accept the inspectors return.
Asked on NBC if sanction relief would be ruled out unless the U.N. weapons inspectors are allowed back into Iraq, Mr. Cheney said, "I cant say that."
The reason for the uncertainty, he said, is that negotiations "with members of the Security Council and our allies and friends in the world" on the sanctions that would be appropriate are still under way.
Mr. Cheney was then asked if the United States would view it as a "defeat" if Iraq is no longer subject to U.N. weapons inspections. He replied: "The key here is what happens with respect to Saddams military capability, and the argument is and has been by many of our friends in the region that the way the sanctions are operating now, they are, in fact, damaging relationships, in part because of harm that is done to civilians."
Mr. Cheney said Saddam uses that claim "as an excuse, frankly," for fostering anti-American sentiment in the region and justifying his repressive rule. He added that the United States now thinks "focusing on the military aspects … and retargeting the sanctions on the important [weapons] technologies and capabilities is crucial here."
In the NBC interview, the vice president was not asked how anyone can determine exactly what "important technologies and capabilities" Iraq has or is developing, without reports from impartial weapons inspectors.
According to published reports, the sanction-relief plan jointly proposed by the United States and Britain would end bans on civilian goods imported to Iraq but tighten controls on military-related supplies. The original plan reportedly required the return of the weapons inspectors as a condition for providing more focused sanctions.
But Mr. Cheney said yesterday: "Exactly whats going to come out of the consultations that are now under way, I wouldnt want to predict."
This is not the first time Mr. Cheney has suggested weapons inspectors may be dispensable.
In an interview March 2 with editors and reporters of The Washington Times, Mr. Cheney said inspectors "may not be as crucial" as in the past, "if youve got" a sanctions program in place that "people are willing to support."
But just hours after the interview, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice presidents chief of staff, called The Times to clarify Mr. Cheneys remarks. Mr. Libby said he wanted to make it clear that Mr. Cheney did not think the inspectors had become unimportant. "We expect the Iraqis to live up to all the U.N. resolutions, including getting the inspectors back," the aide said.
The vice president did not offer details about what he described as the "refocused sanctions" being proposed by Secretary of State Colin Powell. But he said they include "very tough" measures with respect "to anything that relates to the military" that would "keep the revenue from oil sales flowing through the U.N. escrow account, which is really key to maintaining those sanctions."
On "Meet the Press," Mr. Cheney was also asked about the disabled Navy surveillance plane that has been sitting on the ground in China for seven weeks, after being struck and damaged by a Chinese fighter jet on April 1.
China has said the United States can have its $80 million plane back, but it doesnt want the aircraft to be flown off Hainan island. Beijing has refused the United States permission to fly the EP-3E plane, even though an American assessment team concluded it is flyable.
Asked if the Bush administration will demand that the plane be flown out of China, Mr. Cheney said, "My guess is that it may well have to be crated out, partly because its in such bad shape. Whether or not we should actually leave it there and try to repair it and then fly it out or crate it out, thats a subject to be negotiated with the Chinese."

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