Chief UN arms inspector Richard Butler has made it clear he wants access to all sites in Iraq that may house weapons of mass destruction, or information about them. Iraqi officials have made it just as clear they won't allow this. After all, many of the sites Mr. Butler has in mind are Saddam Hussein's "palaces" - the very embodiment, it is claimed, of Iraqi sovereignty.
Meanwhile, the country's people remain hostage to just such deadlocks.
The reasonable course would be for Saddam to realize that sovereignty has not been a valid argument ever since he was forced to accept a war-ending agreement that included forswearing biological, chemical, and nuclear weaponry. Intrusive inspections were part of the bargain.
Butler is absolutely right to insist on access. With access, the process of inspection and ultimate lifting of economic sanctions could proceed.
Such cooperation, unfortunately, doesn't appear imminent. So, even as the UN stands firm on the inspection front, it should carefully expand the amount of Iraqi oil sold for humanitarian relief within the country - perhaps broadening relief efforts to include water purification, education, and other elements that might help restore normalcy for Iraq's people.
Both tracks are needed: firmness on the weapons issue, and compassion for the average Iraqi.