Global Policy Forum

UN Chief May Propose Easing Restrictions


November 28, 1997

UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 27 (Reuters) - The United Nations Secretary-General is considering recommending an increase in the amount oil that Iraq is allowed to sell in order to buy food, medicine and other goods, diplomats said today.

After hearing reports of the plight Iraqis suffering under trade sanctions, the Secretary General, Kofi Annan, is expected to ask the Security Council to raise the current $2 lion limit to $3 billion for the next six-month period when the plan comes up for renewal on Dec. 5.

The oil-for-food program - which a year ago to alleviate the impact of sanctions that were imposed on Iraq when it invaded Kuwait in 1990 - allows critical Foods into Iraq under controlled conditions.

But the politics are intricate. The United States may reject any action, saying the Council should wait a few weeks to make sure that Iraq first lets United Nations inspectors carry out their work unimpeded as they search for weapons of mass destruction. The inspectors have recently returned to Iraq. but are still arguing with Saddam Hussein over the extent of their access to possible weapons hideaways.

Some diplomats predict that Mr. Annan will not ask for a specific increase, thereby avoiding putting Washington on the spot.

One diplomatic source at the Security Council, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the 15-member body would probably end up continuing the $2 billion limit without changes, in part because of the United States' opposition, but may promise to consider an increase later.

Britain, usually a close supporter of Washington's hard-line policies on Iraq, could break ranks in this case and favor more oil sales, as do most other important members of the Council. "The United Kingdom is quite ready to push the envelope," the British Ambassador, Sir John Weston, said on Wednesday.

Timed to influence the report, the United Nations Children's Fund, or Unicef, released a survey Wednesday that showed youngsters under 5 years old were underfed and underweight I despite the oil-for-food program. "it is clear that children are bearing the brunt of the current economic hardship," said Philippe Heffinck, the Unicef representative in Baghdad.

Washington has been the chief advocate of the oil-for-food program as it gives the United Nations control over goods arriving in Iraq- But Iraq objects to it, viewing it as a substitute for lifting the sanctions.

Iraq has close to $1.1 billion in oil revenues not yet spent on humanitarian goods.

Baghdad has argued that this is partly due to American blockages on ambulances and other items on order, though the Americans argue that Iraq had not turned in enough proper contracts. "The current list has things like musical instruments, rowing machines, dental floss ' " said one diplomat. "A straight increase would raise the amounts of those things pro rata, but are they essential humanitarian needs?"

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