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u.s. blocks questions about vx gas

  1. klown

    3,363 posts.
    The United States blocked China and France from asking U.N. weapons inspectors to prove that VX nerve gas left in a Baghdad laboratory wasn't used improperly to contaminate Iraqi missile warheads.

    By EDITH M. LEDERER

    .c The Associated Press


    UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The United States on Thursday blocked China and France from asking U.N. weapons inspectors to prove that VX nerve gas left in a Baghdad laboratory wasn't used improperly to contaminate Iraqi missile warheads.

    Hasmy Agam, Security Council president and Malaysia's U.N. ambassador, had circulated a letter to Secretary-General Kofi Annan with questions to the U.N. inspectors from France and China.

    But the United States objected to France's questions, added late Wednesday, which U.S. officials felt trivialized the serious issue of disarming Iraq and focused unfairly on U.N. weapons inspectors from the U.N. Special Commission, or UNSCOM. So the letter has not been sent.

    The issue of VX became a flashpoint for the Security Council last year when the United States found traces of the nerve agent on fragments of Iraqi missile warheads. Iraq has admitted producing 3.9 tons of VX agent, but has denied loading the deadly agent into missile warheads.

    Seven vials containing tiny quantities of VX were among the chemical and biological material left in UNSCOM's Baghdad laboratory when inspectors pulled out of Iraq in mid-December on the eve of U.S. and British airstrikes. Iraq barred them from returning.

    France, China and Russia - Iraq's closest allies on the Security Council - urged the council to have the samples analyzed, intimating inspectors may have laced Iraqi warheads with the agent.

    But the majority of the 15-member council agreed with the weapons inspectors who said the VX could only be used to calibrate equipment used to test for the nerve agent, posed no danger, and should be destroyed.

    A team of independent chemical experts sent to Baghdad to make the laboratory safe went ahead and destroyed the VX samples on Tuesday. But China and France wanted UNSCOM to answer questions about why VX was in the lab and why most of it wasn't destroyed if it degrades after about a year.

    One question proposed by France asked whether equipment in the Baghdad laboratory was used to analyze the Iraqi warheads before they were sent to the American lab which found the VX traces. ``If that is not the case, for what reason?''

    Another French question asked ``why the entry code of the chemical lab and the biological room happened to be not operational.''

    A U.S. official retorted: ``While most of the council is concerned about more than three tons of one of the most toxic substances known to man, they're worried about the front door key.''

    Iraq's Vice-President Taha Yassin accused the Security Council of ordering the destruction because it knew that UNSCOM inspectors had used the VX to contaminate the warheads. And an unnamed Iraqi weapons official was quoted by the official Iraqi News Agency as saying the VX was destroyed under U.S. pressure ``to erase evidence'' of UNSCOM involvement.

    The issue of UNSCOM's lab in Baghdad comes as the Security Council is debating a new policy toward Iraq. By drawing out the debate over a seemingly clear-cut technical issue for several days, France, Russia and China put the council on notice that they will closely scrutinize Iraq's outstanding disarmament obligations - and that reaching consensus will not be easy.

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