Global Policy Forum

Iraq to Attend UN Talks on Sanctions

February 21, 2001

Iraq has confirmed that it will attend talks next week at the United Nations on the decade-old Gulf War sanctions, despite the recent bombing of the country by the United States and Britain, the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, said Tuesday.

Mr. Annan also said he had received assurances from Washington that the air strikes near Baghdad last week were "not an escalation, not a qualitative difference in their activities in Iraq." He was not informed of the strikes in advance, he said.

"Obviously, the timing is a bit awkward for the talks that I'm going to have on the 26th," he said of air strikes, "but the Iraqis have confirmed they are coming." "So we will be able to pursue attempts to break the impasse and pull them into cooperation with the UN," he said.

Meanwhile, the United Nations released a letter from the Iraqi foreign minister, Mohammed Said Sahaf, demanding that the world body condemn the bombing as an "act of aggression" and hold the United States and Britain fully liable for all damages.

The high-level UN talks, scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, were arranged in November when diplomats believed that Baghdad had some proposals for breaking the deadlock on sanctions. The key requirement of the United Nations is that arms inspectors be allowed into Iraq to determine whether Baghdad still has weapons of mass destruction.

Arms inspectors have not been in Iraq since the United States and Britain conducted a bombing campaign in December 1998 to punish Baghdad for its disputes with the inspectors. The conventional wisdom has been that the meeting on the sanctions would produce little progress in the absence of changes of policy in the United States or Iraq.

In recent weeks, diplomats at the United Nations have said that Baghdad, which is gaining support in the Arab world and beyond, may not need to take any initiative, but could wait to see if someone else did. Following President George W. Bush's inauguration in January, the international community had been waiting to see how the new U.S. leader would fulfill campaign promises to adopt a stronger stance toward Baghdad. That question was at least partly answered when U.S. and British planes bombed air defense installations on the outskirts of Baghad on Friday.

Iraq reported that two civilians were killed and 20 others wounded in the air strike. "This act of aggression, like all such acts which have been carried out inside the two aerial exclusion zones since 1991, is a unilateral use of force against the sovereignty of an independent state," the Iraqi foreign minister asserted in his letter.

A split among NATO members over the bombing deepened Monday with France condemning the action as illegal and Germany withholding public support. The U.S. and British attacks also drew sharp condemnation from the Arab League, including Egypt and Syria, which joined the alliance that drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait during the Gulf War, and Russia and China, which both have permanent seats on the Security Council.

Mr. Annan discouraged any thought of a "miraculous breakthrough" on the sanctions issue, but he said he believed that next week's meeting could be useful. "You have to have some hope otherwise I wouldn't be getting into this exercise," he said, adding: "At least it's a beginning."

Iraq's new chief representative at the United Nations, Mohammed Douri said last week that he hoped Bush's administration might be more flexible in the 15-member Security Council, which is sharply divided on Iraq. He said that the flight bans enforced by the United States and Britain over large parts of Iraq should be lifted.

More Information on a Turning Point for Iraq
More Information on Sanctions against Iraq


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