Global Policy Forum

Now U.N. Is Left to Ponder


By Barbara Crossette

New York Times
December 21 1998

After four days of air strikes against Iraq, the Security Council plans on Monday to begin assessing the damage done to all three legs on which its relations with Baghdad stand - economic sanctions, arms inspections and a relief program intended to aid Iraqis suffering under an economic embargo.

With President Clinton under impeachment and American attention diverted from the coming days and weeks of debate in the Council, the British and French are expected to take the lead.

The difficulty the Council faces is that more than eight years of painstakingly negotiated resolutions have linked the sanctions, inspections and "oil for food" plan in a cat's cradle of demands and restrictions that will be hard to separate. The first step might be a full review of United Nations relations with Iraq, diplomats here say, although even that is likely to be put off until the new year.

Baghdad has long sought such a review, which may now be the only route to finding a consensus on how to deal with President Saddam Hussein now that he has said, again, that he will no longer work with arms inspectors under the existing system.

After the latest campaign of bombing and missile strikes, a review may create new pitfalls for the United States and Britain, which were hoping that such a hearing might buttress their case to leave sanctions in place.

The sanctions, particularly an embargo limiting the sale of Iraqi oil, have been a prime tool of the United States in keeping Iraq isolated and Mr. Hussein parted from revenue that could be put toward rebuilding Iraq's weapons programs.

Already support for the sanctions, long challenged on humane grounds, appears to have eroded further. Today in Paris, President Jacques Chirac of France called for a prompt lifting of the oil embargo. His country's major oil companies have for years been eager to return to work in Iraq, although record low oil prices make this less attractive now.

Russia is expected to share the French position on lifting the oil embargo, which is directly linked to certification by the United Nations Special Commission, known as Unscom, charged since 1991 with disarming Iraq that there are no more prohibited arms or the means to make them.

So while Mr. Chirac said in a statement that it was time for a "fundamental review" of relations with Iraq, he also underscored that it must proceed from the understanding that arms controls will continue, along with some supervision of Iraqi expenditures from the sale of oil. "The international community must be able to carry out effective monitoring of Iraqi arms and any development of them," Mr. Chirac said. "This means fresh organization, fresh methods."

Prime Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov of Russia was also looking ahead. Today in New Delhi, where he is on an official visit, he said his concern was that a political solution be found so that air strikes would not be repeated.

No member of the Security Council is willing to say categorically that Iraq has answered all outstanding questions regarding its banned arms programs, but Russia and France, with growing support from Council members like Brazil and Kenya, have argued that all of the missing pieces may never be found. These members are beginning to agree that it is time to close the books on active, kick-down-the-doors inspections and switch to long-term monitoring. That would mean lifting the oil embargo.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors nuclear programs around the world and is composed largely of career international bureaucrats, has already laid the groundwork for closing the nuclear file, which has made it very popular with the Iraqis. Baghdad now demands that if inspections of any kind are to resume, the United Nations Special Commission must be restructured to be more like the atomic agency. If that is done, some diplomats say they believe that Iraq can be persuaded to agree to some kind of monitoring. But independent arms control experts say such inspection would be meaningless, and in any case Iraqi leaders said again last week that sanctions have to end first.

While the Clinton Administration understands that sanctions cannot be sustained forever, it still argues - in increasing isolation here - that Iraq has to do even more than account for all of its weapons before they can be lifted.

At the center of the inspection debate is Richard Butler, the executive chairman of the Special Commission. Iraq has made clear for more than a year that it does not want to work with him. Last week Russia formally called for his dismissal. Now, even among Mr. Butler's supporters, there are those who ask whether inspections can ever resume in a hostile Iraq with him in charge and whether pragmatism might not dictate that he be replaced.

In an interview on Saturday, Mr. Butler said allowing the Iraqis to emerge from a bombing campaign free of international supervision of their weapons programs or with a new system tailored to their demands "just doesn't make sense." Publicly, the United States supports Mr. Butler completely.

But Scott Ritter, the former concealment expert who quit the Special Commission in August in disgust at American policy, said that Clinton Administration had in fact weakened Mr. Butler time and again. He said the most recent incident came lst week, when White House officials put pressure on Mr. Butler to release his latest report on Iraqi noncompliance, so that it could be used as the trigger for military action. "They decided to use Richard Butler and Unscom in this fashion, "Mr. Ritter said, "and now they have to pay the price."

The problem that Washington and others face now is how to continue policing and undermining Mr. Hussein's hope of a renewed weapons program without sanctions or effective inspections. And if sanctions go, the "oil for food" program will go with them, unless another system is devised to control how Iraq spends its oil money.

The Iraqis rejected for almost five years the offer of the "oil for food" plan, under which they now pump 1.8 billion barrels of oil a day and can buy a wide range of goods and equipment with it under United Nations supervision. The program has been severely disrupted in the last week because of the military strikes.

All Security Council members acknowledge that Mr. Hussein, who has always been permitted to import medicine and food, chose not to. And despite the embargo, huge quantities of marble found their way to Iraq for dozens of presidential palaces, the Baghdad police got new Korean cars, officials of Mr. Hussein's party bought computers and smugglers stocked stores in fashionable neighborhoods with Western consumer goods.

Unrestricted new income, many diplomats here fear, now more than ever, would be sunk directly into rebuilding weapons.

More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq

More Information on the Iraq Crisis


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.