Global Policy Forum

Major UN Powers Divided on

Associated Press and Reuters
September 20, 1999

New York -- On the opening day of the annual U.N. General Assembly session, senior officials of the Big Five U.N. powers met Monday, seeking consensus on easing sanctions against Iraq in return for its cooperation with a new disarmament system.

The subject of sanctions and renewed inspections of suspected Iraqi weapons sites is expected to be a major controversy over the next two weeks as the United Nations grapples with what to do next in light of the Security Council deadlock. Among the five permanent, veto-wielding Security Council members, Russia, China and France have been sympathetic to an immediate lifting of the sanctions imposed shortly after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

A senior U.S. official struck a tough public line, saying any adjustment to the sanctions was very difficult and "in no case prior to full compliance should there be any change in the fact that (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein's regime should not have access to resources."

"We do want to re-establish the consensus, but not at the cost of letting Saddam off the hook," the official said. Before sanctions are lifted, weapons inspectors must be allowed back into Iraq, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said. The United States has signaled willingness to consider some easing of sanctions to allow more food, medicine and certain other goods to reach the hard-pressed Iraqis. But the United States, along with Britain, is insisting that Iraq allow weapons inspections -- suspended in late 1998 -- to be resumed as a pre-condition.

Dissidents voice opinion in U.S.

Albright spent Monday with various diplomats and 16 anti- Hussein activists, most living in Western exile, whom she called "brave, free voices of Iraq." Riyadh al-Yawer, an official with the London-based Iraqi National Congress, said opposition leaders support lifting present caps on the so-called "oil for food" program, to allow Iraq to export more of its oil. They insisted the United Nations assure that oil revenues are be used for food and medicine, not for Iraqi's war-making capabilities.

"We will vigorously oppose one more penny being put in the hands of Saddam Hussein," al-Yawer said. "The Baghdad regime has tried hard to silence the Iraqi people and to hide the evidence of its crimes against them," Albright said in a statement. "This courageous group, visiting New York for the opening of the General Assembly, has shown that Saddam has failed."

The United States helped finance visits of many of the Iraqi dissidents to New York, so they can lobby other countries for such a position, Albright aides said.

Meanwhile, Hussein renewed his demand Monday that sanctions be lifted immediately and said he will reject any U.N. decision in which "Iraq does not actively participate."

'We are much closer'

Representatives of the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France met at U.N. headquarters in New York on Monday after making some progress in narrowing their differences at talks in London last week. After a 2 1/2-hour session, they agreed to meet again on Tuesday, officials said. British Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain told reporters: "We are much closer but there are still some difficult issues to resolve."

The problems concern the way in which a gradual easing of sanctions on trade in civilian goods would be tied to compliance on disarmament, and the mechanism for triggering a suspension of a U.N. trade embargo in force since 1990.

French diplomats said the aim was to produce an agreed set of principles on Iraq, which the Big Five foreign ministers would meet to endorse later this week if sufficient progress was made. That would form the basis for a Security Council resolution at a later date. The Group of Seven industrialized powers and Russia used the same method to bridge wide differences on a political settlement of the Kosovo conflict earlier this year.

Iraq says it has complied with all its obligations to rid itself of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and will not readmit U.N. arms inspectors. It is demanding an unconditional lifting of the embargo, which it blames for severe civilian hardship.

The inspectors have not returned to Iraq since the United States and Britain staged a four-day punitive airstrike last December to punish Hussein for obstructing the work of the U.N. Special Commission in charge of dismantling Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

The bombing split the Security Council, further weakening the international consensus on sanctions.

More Information on Iraq Sanctions


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