Global Policy Forum

UN Council Powers Discuss Easing

May 22, 2001

Key members of the UN Security Council discuss yesterday new British-U.S. proposals to liberalize sanctions against Iraq, with Russia and China raising doubts a resolution could be adopted within two weeks. The afternoon meeting among ambassadors from the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China - the council's permanent members with veto power - is the first joint session on the new measures, although experts from the five have spoken informally in various capitals.

The aim is to get a vote in the 15-member council by May 31, before the next six-month phase of the UN-Iraq humanitarian oil-for-food programme begins on June 4. "We want to lessen the impact of sanctions on the civilian population," U.S. ambassador James Cunningham said minutes before the meeting began. "I think we will be in a position to move this week, I hope."

In an effort to counter critical world opinion of the decade-old sanctions, Britain, working with American officials, last week announced it was drafting a resolution to drop embargoes on all non-military imports to Iraq. Military supplies will still be banned outright and "dual-use" items that can apply to civilian and military goods will require specific authorization from the council members. The United Nations would still control the bulk of Iraq's oil revenue through an existing escrow account that handles payments for imported goods. But the proposals, designed to make the Baghdad government responsible for hardships of ordinary Iraqis, will not include any tough monitoring of borders, as the United States wants, because such plans have not gelled yet, council sources said.

However, they said a British-drafted resolution, expected to emerge on Tuesday, would ask UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to recommend a system for local trade in exchange for oil between Iraq and its neighbors as well as allowing civilian flights from neighboring countries. These proposals could also in future include compensating Iraq's neighbors for any measures Baghdad might take against them, the diplomats said. The draft resolution also may exclude Iraq's rate of payments to a reparations fund for Gulf War victims, which was temporarily lowered from 30 to 25 per cent of its oil sales.

That needs to be extended if the lower rate is to remain. But diplomats said they expected France and others would insist such a provision be included in any new draft. China's UN envoy Shen Guofang said on Monday the proposals also allowed Iraq to use some monies in its escrow account to pay U.N. dues. But he said "there are conditions attached to it so we have to see if it is feasible."

"At this stage, I think maybe it is practical to have a technical rollover resolution" that would extend the existing programme," Shen told reporters. The British-U.S. plan expands the so-called fast-track for civilian goods that can go to Iraq without approval from the council's sanctions committee.

At the same time a list of items that can be used for military and civilian purposes has been drafted by the United States and Britain, which Russia and China say will also take time to formulate.

Moscow's foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, at a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington on Friday had few encouraging words. "Our U.S. partners put forth their vision, their approach to this issue. We have also our own proposals," he said. Russia and China, along with France, have been advocating a suspension of the sanctions, imposed when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. To get the embargoes suspended or lifted, Iraq has to cooperate with UN arms inspectors to make sure it no longer has programs for weapons of mass destruction. Baghdad has refused to allow the inspectors to return since December 1998 bombing raids by the United States and Britain.

The new plan would not require Iraq to let arms inspections resume before sanctions on consumer goods could be lifted. Iraq has never liked the oil-for-food accord, which allows it to sell unlimited amounts of oil, with the proceeds put in a UN escrow account to pay suppliers of goods Baghdad orders. It believes any tinkering with the plan would only nail down sanctions for years to come, especially if the five powers took a unified position, which they have not done for years. "We have nothing new but to tell all our friends and brothers our opinion that we will reject the so called 'smart sanctions' which are more stupid than the current sanctions," Iraqi President Saddam Hussein told a cabinet meeting, according to the official Iraqi news agency, INA.

More Information on a Turning Point for Iraq
More Information on the Iraq Crisis
More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq


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