As Kofi Annan received a hero's welcome from United Nations employees Tuesday, the agreement he signed is not entirely pretty reading for Washington. The two-page memo gives the Secretary General carte blanche to pick and choose members of the "special group" that will inspect the eight disputed Presidential Palaces. For Annan, "it's a masterful piece of diplomacy," says TIME's U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "He came back and he's in charge."
There's one loose end, however, that could come back to haunt him. This "special group," it says, will also operate under "specific detailed procedures which will be developed given the special nature of the presidential sites." Wording so loose, it almost cries out for Saddam to defy the spirit of the deal -- by drawing up a whole new list of inspection-blocking "special procedures."
The White House -- perturbed, perhaps, by the fine print -- spent its Monday spin cycle qualifying President Clinton's earlier endorsement. NSA advisor Sandy Berger described the deal as merely an outline of "some basic principles," and added the U.S. would work to ensure it resulted in "rigorous and professional" inspections. If it doesn't, at least the Annan accord gives Washington much more of the missing ingredient in this winter's noisy efforts to face down Iraq: a legal and moral basis for military action.