- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2003

NEW YORK — Britain and France want to turn the U.N. inspection force that worked in Iraq before the war into a permanent agency authorized to investigate biological weapons and missile programs worldwide, diplomats and U.N. officials said.

They said the United States opposes the idea of saving the agency, known as Unmovic, but is not prepared to reject it publicly.

“The coalition has taken on the responsibility for inspections and the search” for weapons in Iraq, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John D. Negroponte, has said.

Noting that the U.N. Security Council is bound by a resolution to discuss Unmovic’s future regarding Iraq, Mr. Negroponte said this summer: “We haven’t ruled anything in or ruled anything out at this particular time.”

U.S. officials said Washington won’t formally discuss Unmovic — the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission — until after the U.S. weapons search in Iraq is complete.

That could leave the U.N. agency in limbo until June, when David Kay, the CIA’s man leading the hunt, is expected to finish his work.

Members of Unmovic, the outgrowth of an inspections process created after the 1991 Persian Gulf war, are trained in biological weapons and missile disarmament.

They also investigated Iraq’s chemical weapons programs, but international chemical inspections are done by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based at The Hague.

The plan to turn Unmovic into a permanent international force — backed by Britain and France, with help from Russia, Canada and the European Union — would require a new Security Council resolution and Washington’s support.

Diplomats said the matter is sensitive for the Bush administration, but they hope Washington will come around.

“We think the Iraq experience has helped Americans recognize the potential utility of having someone other than themselves do this kind of work,” said one senior Western diplomat. “The costs are high, the work is hard, and even Congress has said the U.N. inspectors had some better intelligence than the CIA did.”

Details of the initiative were discussed during an Oct. 23 meeting of the United Nations’ disarmament committee and are based loosely on a June declaration by the European Union on weapons of mass destruction.

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