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Rolf Ekeus, a Swedish diplomat, was chief U.N. arms inspector for Iraq (United Nations Special Commission on Iraq -- UNSCOM) from 1991 until 1997. He spoke from his home in Stockholm with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels.

NATHAN GARDELS: When you led U.N. inspections after the Gulf War, they were considered at the time to be largely effective in uncovering Saddam's mass destruction weapons arsenal. Later they broke down because of lack of Iraqi cooperation. Can new inspections be effective?

ROLF EKEUS: Yes -- on three conditions.

First of all, any new U.N. resolution must be phrased so as to put the onus on Iraq to prove it is innocent, not on the inspection regime to prove Iraq is guilty.

In the first cease-fire resolution that called for inspections after the Gulf War, this was indeed the case. The burden of proof was not on us, but on Saddam. He was guilty until proven innocent. Inspections were mandated for any time, any place without interference by the Iraqi regime. He had to declare what weapons and facilities he had or had destroyed, and our job was to verify those declarations.

That changed in 1998-99 when the United Nations gave the advantage to Iraq by putting the onus on the inspectors -- even foolishly sending in diplomats to accompany them as a way to smooth ruffled feathers over ''infringement of sovereignty'' -- before the whole inspection regime broke down.

To be effective now, the United Nations must return to its original charge: In the case of a country thought to be hiding weapons of mass destruction, it is the suspect who must convince the world it is innocent.

Second, all five permanent members of the Security Council must be united behind any new inspection regime, as it was during my days as chief inspector of UNSCOM. Toward the end of my period, France and Russia had concluded, for their own economic interests vis a vis Iraq, that since we had uncovered or accounted for most of the weapons it was time to lift sanctions. And it was true: We had uncovered and destroyed 95 percent of Iraq's chemical and biological stockpiles -- including at production facilities that were totally and absolutely denied by Iraq -- and all 900-some Scud missiles that might deliver them. What remained was some concern on our part over one particular nerve agent and an attempt to salvage Scud engines from the scrap yard for a homemade delivery vehicle.

Very quickly, Iraq took advantage of this split in the Security Council to undermine and ultimately paralyze further inspections under my successor, Richard Butler.

Finally, for a new regime to be effective, I support the idea of ''coercive inspections,'' namely that inspectors be backed up by a stand-by military force to ensure cooperation.

No one should underestimate how complex implementation of this idea will be. It could easily turn into a Mogadishu-type firefight with disastrous results for U.N.-mandated troops and the inspectors themselves, especially if the Iraqis feel they can force a showdown because the Security Council is not united.

GARDELS: The Bush administration argues that even though inspections were thought to be effective at the time, only when Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamel Majid, defected to Jordan in 1995 did the world really find out the scope of Saddam's weapons stockpiles and production facilities hidden from inspectors. Is that so?

EKEUS: That is not correct. In April 1995, I reported to the Security Council on the extent of the biological weapons they had tried to hide, but we discovered. In June and July we gave more details about weaponization of those materials and their major production facilities.

Hussein Kamel Majid defected in August 1995. In my view, the cause and effect are the opposite of what is being said today. Hussein Kamel Majid was forced to defect (ital) because (unital) we detected the hidden biological weapons program, which was connected to the most secret program for development of nuclear weapons. We did not discover it as a result of his defection.

A bit later, fearing the consequences of the defection, the Iraqi authorities released even more detailed information. But we had already uncovered the basic facts.

GARDELS: The Bush administration has said Saddam is close to building a nuclear weapon. Did you see any evidence of that during your inspections?

EKEUS: Even then they had the understanding and design of a highly enriched uranium-based nuclear weapon. But they lacked the fissile material itself, the uranium. Clearly, they were trying to manufacture the fuel and had the centrifuges to do so. But we found most of them and destroyed them, though I can't be sure we got them all.

Could they have made one of their own in the years without inspections? They have the scientists and the know-how, but I doubt they have the hardware to do so. They would have had to smuggle in the precision machine tools necessary for new centrifuges. Alternatively, they might have been able to purchase uranium on the black market from Russia or the Ukraine. Perhaps this is something the Bush administration knows.

GARDELS: Given your experience in Iraq, do you think they could have reestablished stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons that you destroyed?

EKEUS: In terms of chemical weapons and nerve agents, they were left with some facilities to manufacture pesticides, insecticides and fertilizer for crops. Originally, these facilities were supposed to be systematically monitored by the United Nations. Without that monitoring, however, it is possible they could have turned them around for military use.

At the same time, it would not make sense to produce much for storage because it deteriorates over time. Rather, they might have set up production lines that can be activated if war threatens.

In terms of biological weapons, we blew up the main plant at Al Hakam. It was completely devastated. People who don't know what they are talking about say you can make biological weapons in the kitchen, but it is much more difficult than that to achieve the right conditions for manufacturing effective agents.

(c) 2002, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 9/5/02)