US Eases Embargoes, Asks UN to Follow


By John Mintz and Colum Lynch

Washington Post
May 8, 2003

The Bush administration announced yesterday it is easing certain provisions of a 1990 law that imposed US sanctions against Iraq, even as US officials stepped up efforts to urge the United Nations to lift its own economic and trade embargo against Baghdad. The United States, with Britain and Spain, will introduce a UN Security Council resolution as early as tomorrow that would halt nearly 13 years of worldwide prohibitions on trade with Iraq and end the UN's control over the country's oil exports and revenues, according to senior US and UN officials. Russia and France have expressed skepticism about the US plan, however, arguing that international sanctions should not be lifted until UN weapons inspectors certify that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction.

But President Bush, in urging the Security Council to end its economic sanctions now that the government of Saddam Hussein is out of power, said yesterday the acrimony that characterized the prewar debate at the UN had passed. ''We believe there is a mood to work together to achieve a resolution that will expedite the reconstruction of Iraq,'' Bush said at a news conference with Jose Maria Aznar, Spain's prime minister and one of his closest allies on Iraq. ''The atmosphere that existed prior to the war has changed, and . . . people now want to work together for the good of the Iraqi people.'' The administration has dispatched a senior State Department diplomat to Russia and Germany to press the issue, and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is preparing to make a separate trip to both countries next week. While UN sanctions against Iraq remain in force, the Treasury Department said it will allow the resumption of a number of once-banned activities with Iraq. For example, the US government now will permit people in the United States to send remittances of up to $500 per month to any person in Iraq, let US contractors working on reconstruction projects import necessary items, and ease restrictions on humanitarian aid.

Commercial trade and weapons sales to Iraq remain prohibited under both US and UN sanctions. When asked yesterday how the US actions fit in with the UN rules, Treasury general counsel David Aufhauser said, ''every action taken today is wholly consistent with extant international law.'' In any case, he said, the administation ''has a high degree of confidence'' that the Security Council will soon suspend its sanctions on Iraq. ''There's no requirement'' to wait for the UN to act on the international sanctions for the measures announced yesterday to take effect, Treasury Secretary John Snow said. ''We want to get on'' with the rebuilding effort.

Some diplomatic observers at the UN said they feared the administration's decision to ease US sanctions was a signal to the Security Council that if it blocked the US resolution, Washington would be prepared to conduct business with Iraq in violation of the UN embargo. ''We are all bound by international law,'' said one senior council member who spoke on condition of anonymity. ''I cannot believe that the US government would wish to put itself in a position where it would be from a purely legal point of view in violation of language that it has proposed and pushed through the Security Council.'' A State Department official said the easing of US sanctions was unrelated to the campaign to remove UN sanctions. ''These are two distinct circles of sanctions,'' he said. ''These are things that are necessary to be done under US law.''

The State Department, when it released its annual report on terrorism last week, recommended to the White House that US sanctions on Iraq be lifted because Hussein's government was no longer in control. In one of the actions in question, Bush, using powers granted him in a recent congressional budget measure, suspended part of the 1990 Iraq Sanctions Act that banned export of certain high-tech equipment to Iraq. The change is aimed at allowing gear such as computers to be sent to Iraq.

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