WASHINGTON — CLINTON administration officials are questioning a decision by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to investigate whether a senior UN official aided Iraqi authorities in capturing two Americans who crossed into Iraq from Kuwait.
"As far as a set-up, we have no evidence of any kind," says one official. "But, as a prudent government, we could not rule it out." The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say William Barloon and David Daliberti apparently strayed into Iraq by mistake on March 13.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona told the Monitor earlier this week that the committee is investigating whether Iqbal Riza, a Pakistani national and veteran UN diplomat who is an assistant secretary-general for UN peacekeeping, played a role in the detention of the pair. Sources say the probe focused on whether Mr. Riza had "set up" the two by passing information to the Iraqis. Riza says he knows of no reason for a probe and would be "happy" to speak to the committee if it presents UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali with a formal request.
Another US official questions whether there was sufficient time for anyone in New York to have gotten word to Baghdad that the two had left for the border. "I cannot picture a scenario in which any kind of passing of information could have occurred during that period of time," he says.
One official describes the incident as "a mistake of omission." He says troops of the UN force that monitors the Iraq-Kuwait border have admitted that they believed the pair was driving an official UN vehicle. They allowed it to cross into Iraq, where it was stopped by Iraqi troops.
While US officials claim the pair were visiting friends in the UN border-monitoring force, Iraq contends they were on an spy mission and has sentenced them to eight years in jail. An Iraqi appeals court this week refused to overturn the conviction.