Global Policy Forum

Russia Seeks Open UN Meeting on Iraq


By Evelyn Leopold

June 20, 2001

Russia, a close ally of Iraq, Tuesday called for a public U.N. debate on new U.S.-British proposals to revamp Iraqi sanctions as Baghdad marshaled opposition to the plan in the Arab world and beyond.

In an attempt to gauge U.N. Security Council support among all 15 members, Moscow said the entire issue should be discussed openly next week rather than in near-daily private talks. No decision has been made on the Russian request. Unclear is whether Russia wants to organize opponents against the measure or state its own position, which has been critical toward the entire plan, particularly a lengthy list of items of military and civilian goods the council must review individually.

Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov said the 15-member body should "consider ways of improving the humanitarian situation in Iraq" and "the negative effect of the population of that country," according to a letter to the council. Russia is a permanent council member with veto power.

Lavrov said the council also should discuss implementing past resolutions and a "post-conflict settlement in the Gulf region." He apparently had in mind a December 1999 resolution that outlined ways to get a suspension of the sanctions, imposed when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, a measure Moscow says is too vague to be implemented.

At issue is a British-drafted resolution that would ease sanctions on civilian imports to Iraq, continue to ban military materiel and draw up a list of goods for review of "dual use" items. Britain intends to present a revised draft Wednesday. The resolution also seeks to stop smuggling, worth about $1 billion a year, and have the monies paid to a separate account rather than to Baghdad directly.

But details were left open, including how Iraq's neighbors might be compensated, leaving it to Annan to devise a system after consulting with Jordan, Turkey and Syria.

Iraq fears the new proposals would solidify rather than ease the sanctions. It cut off world oil supplies on June 4 in protest and threatened to cut oil to its neighbors if they cooperated with the new plan.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, who accompanied President Bush to Europe last week, spoke about the sanctions to his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, over the weekend in Slovenia, White House officials said. They refused to comment on the meeting, noting only that Powell had convinced Ivanov in Budapest in May to extend the U.N. oil-for-food program for another month, until July 3, so negotiations on the plan could continue.

That program, which the United States and Britain want to overhaul, allows Iraq to sell oil and use the proceeds to buy goods for its people. But the United Nations controls the funds in an escrow account and the council has to approve many of the supplies. Russia, supported by China, believes the new system does not change much.


Meanwhile, Iraq's neighbors have weighed in against the plan during U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's trip to the Middle East last week. Syria, which receives oil from Iraq outside of the program, voiced oral opposition to the plan, that was relayed to council members last Friday.

At the same time, U.N. officials gave the council a letter Jordan had handed to Annan, saying its economy would be devastated if the resolution came into effect. Washington for months has been trying to persuade Jordan, Syria and Turkey to go along with a new sanctions regime and put any revenues earned from Iraq into escrow accounts.

But all say that the loss of trade and cheap oil will hurt them too much. Jordan, in its letter, also pointed to popular anger over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which would be aggravated if its economy suffered because of the Western-initiated changes on the sanctions.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has sent senior envoys to Middle Eastern capitals, starting with Egypt and including Jordan, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. Deputy Foreign Minister Nizar Hamdoon, Iraq's former U.N. ambassador, went to Denmark and Belgium to brief officials on the plan.

And in Baghdad Monday, two former U.N. officials that headed the oil-for-food program, Hans von Sponeck of Germany and Denis Halliday of Ireland, held a news conference to campaign against the resolution and sanctions in general.

More Information on the Oil for Food Program
More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq
More Information on the Iraq Crisis


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