Global Policy Forum

US-British Plan Seeks to Restore


By Barbara Crossette

New York Times
May 17, 2001

Britain, backed by the United States, will propose next week that the United Nations lift the 11-year ban on international trade with Iraq, British officials said today. The long-awaited British-American proposal, if adopted by the Security Council, would prohibit only the sale of a specific list of arms and weapons-related items to Iraq.

But the plan would require Iraq to let international arms inspections resume before any sanctions could be lifted, and it would reject Iraqi demands to return to Baghdad the control over money Iraq earns from oil sales. That money would still be deposited into a United Nations-supervised escrow account, to be drawn on for imports. Iraq has already said it would accept nothing short of an end to the embargo, and it expelled international inspectors in 1998, so it is likely to reject the plan as inadequate. "The measures that we are proposing in effect will mean the end of sanctions on ordinary civilian imports into Iraq," a British official said today. "We are trying to agree on more focused controls on Iraq's weapons and illegal oil exports," he said.

Although the new proposals, representing a fundamental shift in the way the United Nations will deal with Iraq, were developed jointly, Bush administration officials appeared reluctant to comment publicly on the plan, leaving the British alone out front today.

The administration's approach has many critics in Washington, especially among conservatives who believe Mr. Bush should increase pressure on President Saddam Hussein in the hope of bringing down his regime. But Mr. Bush, in an interview with The New York Times in January, likened the Iraqi sanctions to "Swiss cheese" and went along with a proposal by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to focus on enforcing sanctions on military transfers. "You undercut all sanctions if you try to stop everything," one State Department official said. "It simply doesn't work to try to lock up the country, especially when so many other countries are willing to turn the other way when goods are smuggled across the border. So it's time to try a different approach."

The proposal comes several years after deep fissures developed in the Security Council over the usefulness or ethical justification for the sweeping embargo that the Security Council imposed under the last Bush administration and which the Clinton administration demanded it keep in place. In recent years, rising oil prices also gave Mr. Hussein enhanced economic power that helped reduce his diplomatic isolation, as old and new trading partners joined in calls for a lifting of sanctions.

A long and difficult council debate is expected. The other permanent members of the council with veto power, China, France and Russia, which have argued for a quicker suspension of sanctions, did not comment on the proposals today.

In Washington, Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said that the administration was in "a sort of intermediate stage" of consultations with Security Council members and nations near Iraq. "We don't have a proposal at this point to present." Mr. Boucher did indicate, however, that the administration supported the plan in principle. "The goal of this process is to control effectively Iraq's ability to buy weapons, to control Iraq's ability to threaten its neighbors, especially to control Iraq's ability to threaten its region with weapons of mass destruction," he said. "So, on the one hand, you will have a set of controls that do that. On the other hand, we will smooth out the process and enable civilian goods to reach the Iraqi people."

The British official briefing reporters said that the basic plan was ready to be presented to the Security Council as a resolution as early as next week. "We've been consulting other Security Council members and key states in the region, and have proposed some ideas, and so far we are receiving a reasonably positive response," the British official said.

Ambassador James Cunningham, the acting American representative on the Council, said today that he hoped to see the resolution adopted by the end of this month, but refused to discuss the proposal in detail.

A review and renewal of the existing "oil for food" program in Iraq is due by June 4, and British and American officials would like to replace that with the new plan at that time. There has been a steady erosion of the isolation of Iraq, as neighboring countries and other nations began to increase trade and send flights to Baghdad's newly reopened airport. At the same time, Arab nations and other opponents of sanctions continue to criticize them for causing unacceptable hardship to the Iraqi people. "Under this system, Iraq will be able to meet all of its civilian needs," the British official said. "If our proposals are adopted by the Security Council, Iraq will have no excuse for the suffering of the Iraqi people."

The new plan for Iraq marks another stage in a long-running attempt by the Security Council to deal effectively with an Iraqi government noted for its record of trying to create nuclear, chemical and biological weapons before and possibly since its invasion and occupation of neighboring Kuwait in August 1990.

After the war to free Kuwait that followed in early 1991, Iraq was told by the Security Council that it would remain under a strict embargo on oil sales and weapons purchases until it had been fully disarmed to the satisfaction of United Nations inspectors. Goods like food and medicine were never included in the embargo. By the end of that year, when much of Iraq's arsenal was being destroyed but it was clear that Mr. Hussein was neither going to cooperate with the inspection system in ferreting out undeclared arms nor use what money he had to alleviate civilian hardships, the Security Council offered Iraq the chance to buy more civilian goods through controlled oil sales. Iraq refused, and it was not until 1996 that a revised oil- for-food program was accepted. That program has been steadily expanded, until Iraq is now free to import a wide range of goods and equipment. But it is still required to present a list of proposed purchases to the United Nations periodically. That rule would now be lifted.

Under the new British-American proposal, Iraq is still required to readmit arms inspectors, who have not been allowed to work in the country since 1998, and to be declared free of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons or components as well as missiles with a range of over 150 kilometers. Until then, the sanctions imposed in 1990 and reaffirmed repeatedly since remain in place.

The proposal requires that two concrete lists of prohibited weapons and weapons-related goods be drawn up, one for weapons of mass destruction and the other for conventional arms. Such purchases could not be made by Iraq, and questionable contracts could still be referred to the Council's sanctions committee. That panel, the British official said, could deny a sale entirely, exercise a line- item veto or ask that United Nations monitors track the ultimate destination and use of a suspect item in Iraq.

In general, the new proposals rely heavily on United Nations monitoring, which could be problematic. Britain and the United States have pressed for more monitors in Iraq, but this has been rejected by some of Iraq's supporters. The Iraqi government could simply bar monitors.

The free flow of civilian goods into Iraq would place a heavy responsibility for vigilance on Iraq's neighbors, since arms inspectors of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission are concerned about the possibility of Iraq's hiding material for arms programs in civilian shipments.

On a recent visit to the Middle East, General Powell discussed these next steps with countries in the region. Diplomats say that Jordan, Turkey and Syria would have to be reassured that they would not suffer economically if they cooperated with the United Nations.

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


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.