UN Slaps Travel Ban on Iraqi Officials

UNITED NATIONS -- The Security Council on Wednesday unanimously slapped a ban on travel abroad by Iraqi officials impeding UN weapons teams and condemned Iraq for barring American UN arms inspectors.


Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, chose not to address the Security Council, apparently believing there was nothing he could say to change the council's mind.


The resolution was in response to an Oct. 29 decision by Baghdad to prohibit Americans from taking part in UN searches for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction under terms of a 1991 Gulf War cease-fire resolution.


Iraq has also demanded a halt to flights by U.S.-piloted U-2 spy planes in support of the UN weapons inspectors and has threatened to shoot them down.


It warned it would expel the Americans -- six are currently in the country -- after adoption of the council resolution.


The resolution expressed the council's "firm intention" to take further unspecified measures if Iraq does not comply.


But diplomats emphasized that any further measures would have to be discussed by the council again and that the vote did not authorize the United States to use military force.


The United States dropped earlier plans to threaten Iraq with "serious consequences" in the council resolution.


This was part of the price for gaining the support of all council members, in contrast to recent occasions when France, Russia, China and some others balked at threatening Iraqi officials with travel sanctions.


The measure suspended regular reviews of punishing trade sanctions slapped on Iraq when it invaded Baghdad in August 1990 at least until April and most likely after that.


It condemned Iraq's actions, including its threat to shoot down the U-2 planes. It demanded that Iraq rescind its decisions and cooperate unconditionally with the UN Special Commission, or UNSCOM, in charge of scrapping Iraq's chemical, biological and missile stocks and facilities.


U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson said that last-minute diplomatic efforts were snubbed by Iraq, whose foreign minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, made "a very negative statement" at a Baghdad news conference earlier on Wednesday.


He said the resolution sent "an unmistakable message to the Iraqis that they cannot continue violate international law." Sahaf, anticipating adoption by the Security Council of the resolution, said that Iraq would definitely retaliate by expelling the Americans working with UN inspection teams.


The main immediate effect of the resolution was to impose a travel ban on Iraqi officials responsible for disrupting UN weapons inspections.


Although a travel ban would be difficult to implement, the mere threat of preventing trips abroad by Iraqi civilian, police and military officials except for diplomatic purposes was the immediate catalyst for the current crisis.


Some Arab diplomats believe that naming specific officials responsible for blocking the inspectors was regarded as insulting by Iraqi leaders and as a direct attack against President Saddam Hussein's government.


Certification from the inspectors that Iraq has no more dangerous weapons is needed before trade sanctions, imposed in August 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait, can be lifted.


Egypt's Ambassador Nabil Elaraby, noting some amendments he proposed had been accepted, stressed the travel ban must not obstruct his country's role as host of the Arab League.


He said the resolution "contains nothing that could open the way for escalation, use of force, or resort to a military option."


Stephen Gomersall, Britain's deputy ambassador, told reporters earlier that "unanimity in the council has been one of the most important considerations that we have at this rather critical time." Before Wednesday's vote, Baghdad barred Americans from U.N. arms monitoring teams in Iraq for the ninth time in 10 days The United Nations has refused to send the teams out without the Americans.