Global Policy Forum

A New Course on Iraq

New York Times Editorial
June 18, 1999

The stalemate over Iraq's illegal biological and chemical weapons programs grows increasingly dangerous. United Nations inspectors have been barred since last December, leaving Baghdad free to rebuild its stocks of deadly toxins, germs and nerve gas in secret. Under these circumstances, the Clinton Administration is right to give provisional endorsement to a new United Nations resolution sponsored by Britain and the Netherlands that may point a way out of the impasse. In doing so, Washington has put aside its counterproductive insistence that sanctions against Iraq must remain in place as long as Saddam Hussein holds power.

The resolution offers Iraq a chance to earn temporary suspension of some economic sanctions. But to do so, it must re-admit UN weapons inspectors and fully honor a list of requirements they present. Before signing on to this resolution, Washington must make sure that its provisions will be rigorously interpreted and strictly enforced.

The resolution would form a new UN inspection commission. If allowed to resume work in Iraq, the new commission would draw up a list of "key tasks," outlining the specific steps Baghdad must take to disclose and destroy its illegal weapons and their ingredients. The list would include things Iraq has refused to do in the past, like providing unrestricted access to suspected weapons production and storage sites and turning over information on what has happened to ingredients Baghdad is known to have possessed.

If Baghdad complies, it would be eligible for a four-month suspension of the nine-year-old ban on Iraqi oil exports. Payment for these exports would go to a United Nations account, and Iraq's use of the money would be carefully monitored and supervised. The suspension could be renewed at four-month intervals, depending on continued Iraqi cooperation.

The resolution also provides that the suspensions could eventually give way to a full lifting of sanctions once the inspectors are able to declare Iraq fully free of all illegal weapons -- a constructive change from the previous American insistence that sanctions could not end as long as Saddam Hussein remained in power. While it is extremely unlikely that the Iraqi dictator will ever comply with his disarmament obligations, he should be given every incentive to do so.

The resolution is likely to be submitted to the Security Council in the next few days.

Washington should make clear that it expects the new commission to be led by someone as tough as the two previous chief inspectors, Rolf Ekeus and Richard Butler.

Russia or China might veto such a strict resolution. But these countries should recognize that it represents a significant shift in American and British diplomatic strategy on Iraq. To reject it would dangerously prolong the stalemate and needlessly extend the economic misery of the Iraqi people.

More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq

More Information on the Iraq Crisis


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