Global Policy Forum

UN Council Asked to Raise Limit


By Christopher Wren

New York Times
February 3, 1998

United Nations - Acknowledging the widespread deprivation that international sanctions have inflicted on the Iraqi people, Secretary General Kofi Annan asked the Security Council today to more than double the amount of oil that Baghdad is permitted to sell to pay for food, medicine and repairs of its deteriorating infrastructure.

In a report before the Security Council, Mr. Annan recommended that the present limit of $2 billion in Iraqi oil sales every six months be raised to $5.2 billion for the next six month period. He said the current ceiling was inadequate to "address the acute humanitarian needs" of 22 million Iraqis, whom he described as suffering from malnutrition, poor sanitation, inadequate medical care and chronic power failures.

The Secretary General's recommendation comes as the Security Council is casting about for ways, short of military strikes, to get Iraq to open sensitive sites to United Nations inspectors searching for weapons of mass destruction.

But Mr. Annan told the Security Council that "there should be no linkage between the discussion of the humanitarian issues and the crisis that we are trying to contain."

Increasing the amount of oil that Iraq could sell, he said, was not meant to induce President Saddam Hussein to let inspectors into big presidential palaces and other closed installations. "We do not see it as a carrot," the Secretary General told reporters after the Council session.

The Secretary General said his proposals were generally welcomed by the 15-member Security Council, which imposed the sanctions, including an oil embargo, in August 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait. The Council has said it will lift the sanctions once inspectors have determined that Iraq is free of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and long-range missiles, and the means to manufacture them.

The Iraqi leadership must understand that if it wants sanctions to be ended and to see the light at the end the tunnel, it must comply fully," Mr. Annan reiterated today.

Mr. Annan acknowledged that the Iraqis declined to offer their own regarding the delivery and distribution of food and other relief financed with the oil sales.

"We did not get the kind of cooperation we expected from the Iraqis," Mr. Annan said. When a reporter aske why the Secretary General did not pick up the telephone and talk to President Hussein, Mr. Annan replied wryly, "I tried once, but it's not easy to get through at the other side of the line."

Of the proposed ceiling of $5.2 billion, $3.55 billion would go for humanitarian needs, nearly twice the $1.32 billion currently earmarked to help feed and care for the Iraqi people. The rest of the oil revenue would go for war reparations, administrative costs of the oil-for-food program and the upkeep of the United Nations weapons inspection efforts.

Mr. Annan did not offer a timetable for his recommendations, for which Security Council approval is needed. He envisioned the measures taking place over a six-month period, but noted that repair of Iraq's infrastructure, like its electrical power system, would take longer.

A United Nations official familiar with the recommendations said that if the Security Council approves them, they could be put into effect as early as the first week of March. Mr. Annan reported that Iraqi officials have said that they can pump more oil to reach the higher output, though some Western experts doubt this because Iraq's oil fields and pipelines have been neglected.

The existing "food basket," or monthly ration system formulated by the United Nations, allots only 2,000 calories a day for each Iraqi. The Secretary General recommended increasing this to 2,450 calories, and enhancing the quality by adding high-grade protein. The increase in protein, he said, would raise the cost of the food items to more than $1.5 billion, from the present $916 million.

By comparison, Americans consume about 3,800 calories a day on average, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Mr. Annan told the Security Council that public health projects to address the acute shortage of medicine and hospital equipment would require increasing spending to $567 million from $210 million.

The Secretary General identified other needs that the previous plan addressed only partly or failed to cover. He said $870 million was immediately needed to rehabilitate and maintain electricity in northern Iraq. Mr. Annan said Iraq's power generation sites were operating at 40 percent of capacity.

"Under present conditions," Mr. Annan warned, "the rate of deterioration will continue to increase and, with it, the threat of a complete breakdown of the network. The humanitarian consequences of such a development could potentially dwarf all other difficulties endured by the Iraqi people."

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