New York Times, October 2, 1998, p. A4

Top U.N. Arms Inspector Tries to Quiet Ex-Iraq Team Member


UNITED NATIONS, Oct. I - The head of the United Nations' Iraqi disarmament commission said today that he had ordered Scott Ritter, in American inspector who quit in anger in August, to stop revealing information he gathered on the job.

But the order will not be easy to enforce, according to some officials.

In his letter of resignation, Mr. Ritter accused the Clinton Administration and Secretary General Kofi Annan of effectively gutting the inspection program by failing to stand up to Baghdad over bars to inspections. He has been at the center of Congressional testimony in Washington and has given many interviews to the press in the United States, Europe and most recently Israel.

Some diplomats and officials here say that it was the last interview, with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, that caused most alarm. In it, Mr. Ritter spoke of sharing information with Israel, an implacable foe of Iraq, which has long accused American inspectors of spying for the Israelis and Americans.

Today Richard Butler, executive chairman of the United Nations Special Commission, known as Unscom, said Israel was not the issue because it was one of 50 countries that shared intelligence with the commission. He said the problem was larger.

"I've defended Scott's right to express his point of view, and I always will," Mr. Butler, the chief weapons inspector' told reporters today. "That's what makes it particularly sad for me that he has said some things that I regret."

"So I've had to write a letter to him asking him to stop doing that," he said, "because all officials of the U.N. and Unscom sign an undertaking not to reveal matters that should not be revealed publicly, which they've obtained in their official duty." The letter accused Mr. Ritter of "improper disclosure of information." It threatens unspecified further action if Mr. Ritter does not comply. "I hope that will be the end of that," said Mr. Butler, who discussed the letter with the Secretary General on Wednesday.

Today Mr. Annan's spokesman Fred Eckhard, said the Secretary General concurred with Mr. Butler's views. Other officials said that the Secretary General may have urged Mr. Butler to make this move. Mr. Eckhard said that a decision on whether to take legal action against Mr. Ritter was up to the organization's legal counsel.

Mr. Ritter's lawyer, Matthew Lifflander, said in an interview today that Mr. Ritter would not comment on the letter and its demands that he stop speaking until "sometime next week," when he sends a formal reply to Mr. Butler. But he has defended in the past what he sees as his right to speak out on what he considers important policy issues.

At a news conference today after a meeting of his commission, Mr. Butler said that some of Mr. Ritter's public assertions were not true. He mentioned reports quoting Mr. Ritter as saying Unscom knew that Iraq had all the components for several nuclear warheads and did nothing.

"Does anyone in this room actually think that if we had information that Iraq had three partially fabricated nuclear weapons, that we would not have called that to the attention of the International Atomic Energy Agency?" Mr. Butler asked. "Or put it on the table of the Security Council?"

"Of course we would have," he said. "Have you seen us do that? No."

Some diplomats and officials here said they had been mystified by some of Mr. Ritter's actions, which they say could lead to more, not fewer, problems with Iraq and which have provoked annoyance within the Clinton Administration as it struggles to hold together a consensus against Iraqi noncompliance with disarmament resolutions.

On Monday Mr. Butler is to send a six-month report to the Security Council detailing the many problems, that have arisen during the period, the worst being Iraq's decision on Aug. 5 to stop spot inspections.

The Security Council responded on Sept. 9 with a freeze on sanctions reviews, effectively keeping Iraq indefinitely under an embargo imposed after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

In an interview today, Mr. Butler said his report would have "no rabbits pulled out of hats" but will restate the obvious, grim facts.

"This report will, again, set forth priority issues, the necessary conditions for getting to the end of the chemical and missile files," Mr. Butler said, "and we'll call for Iraq to do a whole lot better on the biology file."

At his news conference today, Mr; Butler dismissed reports that European scientists had not found traces of the colorless nerve gas VX on Iraqi warheads discovered this year; while American military experts had found some.

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