Global Policy Forum

Britain and US Look for a Way


By David Usborne

February 9, 2001

Britain and the United States are preparing to offer radical changes in the regime of sanctions against Iraq to answer charges that, as currently applied, they disproportionately harm the Iraqi people.

Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, and Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, have started talks in Washington this week on how to revive the crumbling policy on Iraq. The two men asked their officials urgently to explore new approaches to applying sanctions on Saddam Hussein.

There is deep frustration in London and Washington over the Iraqi leader's success in depicting UN sanctions as the principal cause of the suffering of his population. But both governments argue that it is the actions of his regime, not the sanctions, that are responsible for the hardship.

"International debate has begun to soften on Saddam Hussein's version of events," said Mr Cook. "Saddam has explained sanctions to imply that we are penalizing the Iraqi people. We are not. We and the people of Iraq have a common problem and that problem is Saddam Hussein."

Preventing Saddam from rebuilding his army and developing weapons of mass destruction remains the priority of London and Washington.

The system of sanctions and weapons inspections authorized by the UN Security Council has become unpopular with other governments. France, China and Russia, the three other permanent members of the council, are pressing for the sanctions regime to be wound down.

Privately, Britain has even become impatient with the US over how the sanctions are implemented. Iraq, for example, is entitled to import equipment to rebuild its infrastructure with money earned from oil exports. In practice many such contracts are being blocked by the US, on the grounds that those supplies might be diverted to military projects.

The Government is pressing the US to relax its stance on putting a hold on civil engineering contracts, arguing that such inflexibility plays directly into the hands of Saddam.

London also wants to find new forms of sanctions that hurt the Iraqi army and political leadership. "It is very important that we are focused on the military side of sanctions or Iraq," said Mr Cook. He added that it was likely any new approach on Iraq could be implemented within the framework of existing UN Security Council resolutions. Mr Powell signalled that it may be time to give up on trying to get inspectors back in to Iraq and establish a system of inspections at points of import on Iraq's border.

A resolution mostly drafted by Britain that aimed to make it easier for Iraq to satisfy the conditions for ending the sanctions – to demonstrate that it has abandoned its weapons of mass destruction programme – has failed to bring any progress. UN inspectors have not been in Iraq since 1999.

As it explores different tacks, the new US administration has significantly boosted financial aid to the London-based opposition Iraqi National Congress (INC). Its leadership is in Washington this week negotiating details of a $29m US aid package.

The INC said it would start sending clandestine operatives into Iraq with US help. "Now that the administration is much more forthcoming on these issues, we can take it to another level," said Sharif Ali Bin al-Hussein, the INC's official spokesman.

More Information on a Turning Point for Iraq
More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq


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