Global Policy Forum

Security Council Trying to Strike Deal


By Alan Cowell

New York Times
September 16, 1999

London - The five permanent members of the UN Security Council reported progress Wednesday toward a landmark deal to ease sanctions on Iraq in return for Baghdad's submission to a new system of UN weapons inspections. If the agreement is struck - and accepted by Iraq - it could lead to the first, sustained redeployment of UN personnel to monitor Iraqi weapons programs since the previous inspection system collapsed last year after bitter disputes that culminated in airstrikes by the United States and Britain.

After a meeting here of senior officials from the five nations - the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia - British officials cautioned that there was no guarantee that this latest effort to revive inspection of Iraq's clandestine weapons programs will succeed. "Progress was made but eventual success is not certain," a British Foreign Office spokesman said. U.S. officials made no immediate comment on the results of the encounter, which seemed to imply a major softening of Washington's insistence on maintaining sanctions to prevent President Saddam Hussein from rebuilding an arsenal of chemical and biological weapons.

Since the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf conflict, after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, Baghdad has been the object of wide-ranging international sanctions and restrictions on its trade with the outside world. Struggling to break out of isolation, Iraq says the sanctions are causing vast civilian hardship, but the United States has accused the Baghdad government of starving its own people.

British officials said senior diplomats from the permanent UN Security Council member nations will hold more deliberations in New York, leading to a gathering of the five foreign ministers alongside the UN General Assembly gathering next week. Britain was hoping a UN resolution could be agreed to before the end of the month, the officials said.

Iraq gave the initiative a characteristically frigid reception. "We are not concerned with this meeting," said Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister. "Our legitimate demands are known: the condemnation of the aggression against Iraq and the lifting of the embargo," he told reporters in Baghdad before the outcome of the London meeting was known. Anything less, he said, would be unacceptable.

Diplomats close to the London talks said the meeting centered on the structure of a new arms control regime and on the idea of offering Iraq incentives to accept it.

Under the previous system, the weapons inspectors were grouped in a UN Special Commission headed by Australian diplomat Richard Butler, but Iraq regarded the body as little more than a front for U.S. control and espionage. The Special Commission never completed its assessment of whether Iraq was free of chemical and biological weapons -- a vital precondition for lifting sanctions. Iraq insists that it will not allow inspectors to return to the country and the entire issue has been in limbo for months.

The diplomats said that at Wednesday's meeting it was agreed that a new inspection body would need a less confrontational profile than the previous commission. But it remained unclear how far the five countries had progressed toward settling long-running disagreements among them over the conditions and timing for easing restrictions on both imports and Iraq's vital oil exports. Supported by Britain, the United States was said to have argued that sanctions could only be eased after Iraq had completed a trial period of compliance with a new weapons inspection system intended to ensure its full disarmament and establish long-range monitoring. Only after this probationary period would sanctions be suspended to free Iraq from restrictions on its oil exports and on the nature of its civilian imports. The officials still had to establish the duration of any suspension of sanctions, or conditions for reimposing them. There was no question of permitting Iraq to import arms or equipment that could be used for military purposes, the diplomats said. At present, Iraq is permitted to export oil for the purchase of food, medicine and some equipment needed to run its oil industry.

More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq


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