UN Security Council Says 'No' to Ekeus, Agrees on Blix to Head UNMOVIC

By Rice, Matthew | Arms Control Today, January/February 2000 | Go to article overview

UN Security Council Says 'No' to Ekeus, Agrees on Blix to Head UNMOVIC


Rice, Matthew, Arms Control Today


A QUARRELLING UNITED Nations Security Council finally came to a consensus on an executive chairman to lead the newly created UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspections Commission (UNMOVIC), unanimously supporting the nomination of Hans Blix, former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. representative to the UN and the council's acting president, made the announcement January 26, ending an impasse over the previous nominee, Rolf Ekeus.

The selection of an executive chairman was the first step toward implementation of the most recent Security Council resolution on Iraq. Resolution 1284, adopted unanimously but with key abstentions by Russia, China and France, authorized the creation of UNMOVIC to replace the embattled UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) while promising relaxation of economic sanctions for demonstrated Iraqi cooperation. (See ACT, December 1999.)

The January 17 nomination of Rolf Ekeus, former head of UNSCOM, concluded a grueling month of consultation between UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and members of the Security Council over the selection of an agreeable candidate. A UN source said that "lacking consensus on any of the 25 names submitted to the Security Council, the secretary-general nominated the man that he felt was the best for the job." As its executive chairman from 1991-1997, Ekeus directed the lion's share of UNSCOM's identification and destruction of prohibited weapons activities in Iraq.

The Ekeus nomination was shortlived, however. Representatives from Russia, China and France each registered their disapproval of Annan's choice. Noted Qin Huasun, China's permanent representative to the UN, "Candidates from developing countries, who may be better positioned to convince Iraq to cooperate with the council, should be given more attention and consideration." Other members offered less explanation for their opposition. Sergey Lavrov, the Russian representative, stated simply, "The Russian Federation cannot agree with the proposal." Overriding concerns appeared to be a desire to make a clean break from UNSCOM and the likelihood of an Iraqi refusal to cooperate with an UNMOVIC headed by Ekeus.

U.S. officials derided the notion of an "Iraqi veto" over the process, expressing strong support for the confirmation of Ekeus as late as January 24. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, criticizing council resistance, said, "We consider Ambassador Ekeus as so qualified, as somebody who knows the issues very well ... and has the respect of the international community."

The Security Council never officially rejected Ekeus, but in subsequent discussions Blix emerged as a compromise acceptable to all sides. With his announcement of the nomination, Holbrooke made clear that the U.S. supported the Blix nod: "As the American representative, let me make clear that we are pleased with his nomination. We think he is an excellent choice." Holbrooke also emphasized that council unanimity should push Iraq closer to cooperation instead of the "very dangerous and ultimately self-damaging role" that it has played in the past.

Hans Blix, longtime Swedish diplomat, headed the IAEA from 1981 to 1997 and has extensive first-hand experience with the Iraq problem, having overseen the first six years of IAEA investigations into Iraq's nuclear program at the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War. …

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UN Security Council Says 'No' to Ekeus, Agrees on Blix to Head UNMOVIC
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