Global Policy Forum

UN Officials Say


By Barbara Crossette

New York Times
November 24, 1999

United Nations - Iraq continued to close down its oil export operations on Tuesday by loading the last tanker waiting at the Persian Gulf port of Mina al-Bakr, U.N. officials said. Experts said the loading would be completed overnight. Iraq is protesting a shorter-than-expected extension of the program that allows it to sell some oil to pay for civilian goods to offset the hardships of international sanctions. Although the Iraqi government's decision over the weekend to stop selling oil was considered a temporary measure, oil prices rose to recent record levels before leveling off on Tuesday at $25.57 a barrel for Brent North Sea crude, down slightly from a closing price of $25.78 on Monday.

Iraq gave no indication on Tuesday that it would prolong the freeze on exports if the Security Council reverts as expected to the normal six-month extensions of the program. Last week, as a weekend deadline for renewal approached, the three-year-old "oil for food" program was extended for only two weeks because of a deadlock in the Security Council. The problem stemmed from a Russian attempt to improve the terms of the deal on Iraq's behalf, which was opposed by other council members.

In recent days, the government-controlled Iraqi press has unleashed a harsh campaign against not only the stop-gap extension in the oil-sales plan but also the larger issue of a new arms inspection system for Iraq. Iraq expelled a previous commission set up after the Gulf War charged with ensuring that it destroyed its weapons of mass destruction. The creation of a new disarmament commission is also under intense discussion among the council's five permanent members with veto power: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States. Diplomats say that this is Iraq's real concern.

The Iraqis, who want an unconditional end to sanctions imposed after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, called the Security Council's renewed efforts to re-establish arms inspections "a U.S. and Zionist plot which amounts to a declaration of war against Iraq." But under a 1991 resolution, Iraq cannot hope to have the embargo on uncontrolled oil sales, international air traffic and most imports removed unless President Saddam Hussein's government is declared free of prohibited weapons and the means to produce them.

Diplomats expect that the extent of Iraq's defiance will be tested in the next few weeks as the Security Council, which has been stalled for almost a year, moves closer to an agreement on the inspection issue. No concrete measures are proposed for dealing with the Iraqis if they refuse to accept a new arms inspection and monitoring system -- except an automatic continuation of sanctions.

Under the oil sale program, Iraq is permitted to export $5.26 billion in oil every six months. That rose to more than $7 billion in the last six months because of higher prices and an exemption to make up for earlier quota shortfalls. It now seems likely to be renewed without changes. Any relaxation of the program's rules to increase relief aid and speed reconstruction of basic services in Iraq would be included in the larger Security Council measure on resumed arms control. There have been no inspections in Iraq since last December, when the U.N. Special Commission wrote its last report, laying out examples of Iraqi noncooperation that the United States and Britain used as a rationale for a bombing campaign against Iraq. The inspectors left ahead of the bombing. It is now being threatened."

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