Global Policy Forum

UN Experts Watch Clock on

June 5, 2001

Racing against the clock, UN Security Council diplomats launched negotiations on Monday on overhauling sanctions against Iraq, despite Baghdad's stoppage of oil sales. Bangladesh's ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, this month's council president, told a news conference the 15-member body was aiming to complete a resolution by the third week of June. He said a meeting of experts would take place three times a week, beginning yesterday, and sessions with all 15 ambassadors would occur at least once a week. "As president of the council it will be my intention to push it hard," he said. The council's self-imposed deadline is July 3, the end of a one-month extension to the current UN oil-for-food humanitarian plan for Iraq, a stopgap to allow members to negotiate a new plan.

Monday's talks among experts from the 15 council members ended with what diplomats said were discussions on how to proceed. They expect to resume today. The oil-for-food programme, an exception to the sanctions imposed when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, allows Baghdad to sell oil.

Buyers put the proceeds in a UN escrow account, out of which supplies of food, medicine and many other civilian goods are paid. The escrow account would remain in place under any revamp of the sanctions.

At issue is a draft resolution submitted by Britain and the United States several weeks ago that would lift restrictions on civilian goods imported by Iraq but tighten controls on military-related supplies and smuggling.

Iraq, in protest to the 30-day instead of the usual six-month extension, halted oil exports on Monday as it had threatened last week. While erratic Iraqi oil deliveries are common since the UN programme began in December 1996, oil experts say the stoppage this time may last for more than a few weeks.

Baghdad wants the sanctions lifted and objects to any system, even if it eases imports on some goods, that would perpetuate them. "It will not affect negotiations," U.S. representative James Cunningham said in response to Iraq's action.

But despite Chowdhury's optimism, the July 3 deadline may not be met. Council members from June 15 to 18 are in Kosovo and Belgrade, and the United Nations is hosting a major AIDS conference the last week of June. However, both U.S. and British officials say the council is committed to meeting the deadline and does not want to lose the momentum.

Most diplomats agree that two major obstacles face the council. One is a lengthy U.S.-British list of "dual use" goods that have both military and civilian applications. Iraq would be barred from buying these goods without council approval. They include such items as thick optical fibers, high-grade computers and some telecommunication items.

Another controversy is smuggling and this involves cooperation from Iraq's reluctant neighbors - Jordan, Turkey and Syria. The council would set broad outlines but leave the details to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, after which the council would review them again.

Areas to be covered include regulating illegal trade, monitoring Iraq's land and sea borders against smuggling and sifting through a list of oil traders to eliminate shadowy firms paying Baghdad a surcharge on oil sales outside of the UN system. Both issues have drawn objections from Russia, backed by China and to a lesser extent France. All three countries, along with the United States and Britain, are permanent Security Council members with veto power.

More Information on the Oil for Food Program
More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq
More Information on the Iraq Crisis


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