Global Policy Forum

U.S. Seems Ready to Accept a U.N. Review of


By Barbara Crossette

New York Times
December 7 1998

Just weeks after it went to the brink of military action against Iraq, the United States now appears willing to go along with a consensus on the United Nations Security Council and grant a comprehensive review of the sanctions against Saddam Hussein even if he has not cooperated fully with arms inspectors, diplomats say.

For months Washington has insisted that Iraq must show full cooperation with arms inspections before Baghdad can have any hope of such a review. But now, while Iraqi is still far from total compliance, both the Iraqis and their strongest critics have apparently decided that there is more to gain in staging a review than in igniting a new confrontation.

Iraq has doggedly pursued the idea of a review in hopes that it will accelerate the lifting of a crippling oil embargo. Yesterday the official Iraqi press repeated the demand that the review begin soon, since inspectors have, been back at work on routine tasks in Iraq for more than two weeks. They had been idled for months by Iraqi noncooperation.

On the other side, the United States and Britain believe that a review will prove yet again that Iraq still has much to answer for about its banned weapons programs. Such an outcome would strengthen the American policy of keeping sanctions in place indefinitely.

The decision to authorize the review could come as early as next week, when Richard Butler, the executive chairman of the United Nations Special Commission, which has been charged with disarming Iraq, reports to the Council about recent inspections. Diplomats say the review would then probably begin in January, although details have yet to be decided.

The review would be the first of its kind and be devised to look at all relevant resolutions and requirements set on Iraq since its invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Previous reviews were narrowly focused to assess Iraqi compliance at six month intervals. It is also likely to be used to spell out exactly what more the Iraqis must do so before sanctions can be lifted.

The Iraqis are hoping that once the Security Council takes the broad view it will see in effect that Iraq has met a majority of requirements, no longer poses a threat and can be dealt with through far less intrusive, long-term monitoring regime.

The American view, diplomats say, is that the review will backfire on the Iraqis. If the Iraqis want as "comprehensive" review they note, that is exactly what they may get.

Such a review would provide an opportunity to hold Baghdad accountable for a broad range of transgressions since the gulf war, including the failure to pay compensation to Kuwait or to return stolen Kuwaiti property, and a deplorable human rights record. These grievances are in addition to the charge of harboring programs to make weapons of mass destruction.

The Iraqis, on the other hand, will focus on a narrow definition of compliance aimed specifically at the lifting of the oil embargo.

The shift is taking place despite Iraq's refusal to hand over documents demanded by Mr. Butler's commission. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iraqi nuclear programs, has also been denied documents, independent arms control experts say.

But one Western diplomat noted last week, "It's pretty clear that nobody wants to go to war over documents." On Friday, Russia's envoy, Sergei Lavrov, added that he thought a number of Security Council members had serious questions about the importance, or even the existence, of some of the documents being sought.

Envoys from a cross-section of Council members say no nation wants a conflict during the year-end holidays and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Neither does anyone want to conduct the review, which is expected to be a complicated survey of Iraq's relations with the United Nations, during the same period.

The Iraqis are also prepared to accept a January timetable, Mr. Lavrov said, because despite their calls for an immediate review, the Iraqis want the Security Council's full attention and many diplomats take time off during the holidays.

Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz of Iraq arrived in Moscow on Sunday for talks with Russian officials, two days after Mr. Butler visited Moscow at Russia's request. Russia is expected to take the lead in pressing Iraq's case at the United Nations.

Since President Saddam Hussein allowed the inspectors to return last month, they have expanded their activities in Iraq. But the inspectors have so far avoided provoking a showdown over any one of a number of sites the Iraqis consider sensitive.

No Security Council member is pressing for a confrontation, prompting Scott Ritter, the American concealment expert who resigned from the Special Commission in August, to write in an article in the current issue of The New Republic that the resumed inspections are a "sham."

In this atmosphere, threats from the United States and Britain, countries that went to the brink of war to force Mr. Hussein to back down in mid-November, have all but ended although officials in both countries continue to warn Iraq that an attack can never be ruled out.

The United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, has made the same point in recent days during a tour of Arab nations.

The Iraqis have apparently decided to postpone accounting for disputed documents until a review takes place, when they can argue with the support of Russia, France, China and several countries that hold rotating Council seats that the documents are unimportant or irrelevant.

The Americans and the British, on the other hand, say that they have recent history on their side. For more than a year, Iraq has be demanding reviews of its biological, chemical and missile programs. On every occasion, international experts, including Russian, Chinese and French scientists, have refused to accept Iraqi explanations for missing material.

If a comprehensive review ends with similar results, the Americans and British will be in a stronger position to keep sanctions in place without resorting to military action, at least in the short term.

Iraq hopes to see a review end with the lifting of the oil embargo imposed after the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Other sanctions like bans on air travel could be lifted later as other requirements are met.

Security Council resolutions say, however, that all prohibited weapons systems must be adequately accounted for before the oil embargo is removed. Even if nuclear, chemical and missile systems are cleared of major suspicions, the Iraqi biological weapons program poses huge problems, and these are not likely to disappear quickly.

While American and British statements on Iraq have been subdued lately, the two governments are working hard at the same time to undermine Mr. Hussein's confidence if not his Government by pressing Iraqi exile groups to step up an coordinate their activities against Baghdad, leaders of those groups say.

The United States, exiles said in interviews this week, is also broadening its appeal to Mr. Hussein's opponents by trying to bring Shiite Muslim opponents who operate in southern Iraq from bases in Iran into a concerted effort to undermine the Baghdad Government, along with Kurdish groups in northern Iraq.

Some exiles are skeptical of that plan, saying Iran is not ready to give the Iraqis based there the go-ahead to join a movement that will be assumed to have the support of the United States.

More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq

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