Butler brushes off calls for sacking by Russia, France

 

The chief UN weapons inspector, Mr Richard Butler, under fire from some Security Council members as well as from Iraq, said yesterday that speculation about his possible resignation was a "red herring" and should stop.

"Frankly, I think this question should be put down. It is a silly question," he told reporters.

Mr Bulter said: "I know that some people have asked for my resignation or dismissal." He was referring to criticism by Russia, China and others.

"But I ask you to think of this: is it about me or a personality, or is it about substance? "The substance is the disarmament of Iraq. No one in the Security Council is saying anything else. They have various views on how to do that."

Mr Butler said the issue was not about who headed the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) in charge of disarming Iraq but "about Iraq obeying its obligations and our finding a way to make that possible."

"Whoever would be in my job would have the same responsibility. I think it is a red herring and I think it should stop."

Mr Butler has long been under fire from Baghdad, which has repeatedly called for his dismissal claiming that he serves Washington's interest by failing to certify that all Iraq's weapons of mass destruction have been scrapped.

He has also been sharply criticised by some Security Council members, who have accused him of making inappropriate public statements and giving out information before it was formally relayed to the council.

The criticism has intensified since Mr Butler issued a report a week ago saying Iraq had failed to honour a pledge to resume co-operating with UNSCOM inspectors.

The report was cited by the US and Britain, which support Mr Butler, as grounds for launching the Operation Desert Fox bombings last week.

On Monday Russia's deputy permanent representative to the UN, Mr Yuri Fedotov, said the removal of Mr Butler remained an issue. "We just don't trust him," Mr Fedotov said.

China, during closed-door consultations on Monday, also criticised the Australian diplomat, and France has suggested privately that he should resign, diplomats said.

Asked about the future of weapons inspections in the wake of the attacks, Mr Butler said there were "two sides to this equation - one is the Security Council, which is the law-maker here, and the other is Iraq, whose co-operation is required."

"A serious discussion has started in the Security Council and among leaders, presidents, prime ministers and so on, to find a new way of dealing with the Iraq problem."

About 100 UN relief staff returned to Baghdad last night to resume work, witnesses said. Two buses and several cars carrying the workers arrived after a 900 km (560 mile) drive from the Jordanian capital, Amman.