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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 11, December 1996

Iraq: oil flows, but resolution of dispute no nearer

On 9 December, Iraq was given approval by the UN Secretary-General to sell oil, as from 0001 US Eastern Standard Time on 10 December, to raise funds for emergency, humanitarian supplies. The sale - authorised under Security Council Resolution 986, and expected to raise around $2 billion - had been held up for many months, principally by apparent US and Iraqi disquiet over aspects of the implementation plan. The embargo on the commercial sale of oil remains in place, and is almost certain to persist until the work of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) on Iraq, which is investigating Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programmes, is satisfactorily concluded.

Referring to the likely impact of the emergency oil sale, UN Secretary-General Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali told reporters on 10 December: "More than 20 million innocent Iraqi civilians will be finally saved from starvation and untold suffering." Speaking the same day, Security Council President Francesco Paolo Fulci of Italy called the deal "the largest humanitarian operation ever launched by the United Nations in the world."

France was one of the States most alarmed at the delay over agreeing an emergency sale, and at the general stalemate over lifting the embargo. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jacques Rummelhardt stated on 10 December:

"...resolution 986 is not an end in itself. It is not a substitute for the lifting of sanctions which today weigh on Iraq. ...our objective remains to arrive at a complete lifting of sanctions which will mark this country's return to the international community..."

In a markedly different tone, US State Department spokesperson Glyn Davies reacted on 9 December:

"This does not signal an end or the first step toward the end of the sanctions against Iraq... We view this as a positive development. It has and has been all along a humanitarian exception to what is a, we believe, necessary and vigorous sanctions regime."

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - grouping Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar - issued a statement on 9 December welcoming the move and expressing "solidarity with the suffering of the Iraqi people for which the government [of Iraq] is entirely to blame."

On 11 December, Iraq's government newspaper Ath-Thawra gave its assessment of the development:

"It is necessary to pursue the fight to end the embargo... The application of the [humanitarian] agreement is not a gift to Iraq, but compensation for an unprecedented crime... This crime is continuing...and will continue until the lifting of the embargo's yoke... Iraq now has four rivers: the Tigris, Euphrates, oil and the challenge [of lifting the embargo]..."

Although the go-ahead for the deal was confirmed on 10 December, agreement on implementation came with Iraqi consent to the proposed arrangements on 25 November. The following day, the UK Foreign Office gave its reaction:

"We are pleased that Iraq has finally agreed...as we have long urged. Saddam's delay has caused much unnecessary suffering to the Iraqi people. Implementation will bring them some relief, but they will not enjoy a normal life until Iraq fulfils its obligations under the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. Sanctions will remain until Iraq does so. It is hard to imagine this happening while Saddam remains in power."

On 30 November, speaking in Bahrain, UNSCOM Chair Roef Ekeus gave hie reaction:

"Itois a positive seep. It reflects that Iraq now intends to move forward on the remaining issues with us. I hope that this will lecd to improvement with the Iraqii on what remains."

However, despite the hopes raised by the oil-sale breakthrough, progress towards completing UNSCOM's mission remains elusive. The Commission's main concern is with missiles and missile equipment. On 11 December, Iraq rejected a demand by Ekeus for the handing over of missile engines, for inspection outside the country. According to Ekeus, speaking in Baghdad:

"The removal [of engines and equipment] has been frozen for the time being, and I guess that needs some political decision by Iraq before these can be removed... We agreed to disagree so we decided to freeze the important issue of missiles until the next visit."

That visit is reportedly scheduled for mid-February.

UNSCOM Deputy Chair Charles Duelfer had attempted to reach agreement on the issue a few weeks before Ekeus's visit. Speaking in Baghdad on 25 November, Duelfer sounded dejected and concerned:

"What Iraq has done is a violation of resolution 687 which clearly states that Iraq must unconditionally allow the Commission to remove, or render harmless, or destroy, ballistic missiles or major weapons components... It [this refusal] delays our wok. It causes us to be more suspicious about the declarations which Iraq has made and in fact causes us to believe more strongly that missiles do remain in Iraq."

Ekeus has spoken recently of the possibility of between 6 and 16 ballistic missiles remaining in Iraq.

In late November, Ekeus visited a number of Gulf States (including Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar), reportedly partly in an attempt to secure material support, including financial contributions, for the Commission's ongoing work. Speaking on Saudi Arabia on 25 November, Ekeus said the government there was "clearly...understanding and sympathetic," while Kuwait had "expressed in principle readiness to support" UNSCOM. He then reportedly stressed the gravity of the situation thus:

"We have told the Security Council that by the end of the year we are very short and all our funds [may be] exhausted... And that would mean that we would have to close our operations...with consequences that there would no longer be any control over Iraq..."

Speaking in the Philippines on 30 November, Ekeus stated:

"UNSCOM never asks any government for funds. But the GCC States realise that the functioning of UNSCOM is vital and hence have been offering financial help..."

Reports: UN disarmament chief starts Gulf tour in Kuwait, Agence France-Presse International News, 22 November; UN seeks Saudi funds for UN disarmament drive in Iraq, Agence France-Presse International News, 25 November; UN envoy leaves empty-handed after Iraq blocks removal of missile parts, Agence France-Presse International News, 25 November; Iraq agrees to UN conditions for oil sales, United States Information Agency, 25 November; Iraqi agreement to implement SCR 986, UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson, 26 November; Ekeus in UAE to raise funds for Iraqi disarmament, Agence France-Presse International News, 27 November; Weapons chief welcomes Iraq's oil-for-food deal acceptance, AP Datastream International News Wire, 30 November; Ekeus meets Iraqi officials in bid to remove missile parts, Agence France-Presse International News, 9 December; Gulf Arabs urge Iraq to implement UN resolutions, Agence France-Presse International News, 9 December; UN gives final green light to Iraq on oil-for-food, Agence France-Presse International News, 9 December; Boutros gives Iraq OK to resume oil exports in UN report, AP Datastream International News Wire, 9 December; US says Iraq oil deal does not mean sanctions end, Reuter News Reports, 9 December; France says pushing for total end to Iraq embargo, Reuter News Reports, 10 December; Iraq and UN implement oil sales plan, Reuter News Reports, 10 December; Ekeus, Iraq fail to reach agreement on missile parts, AP Datastream International News Wire, 11 December; Iraq prevents Ekeus from removing missile parts, Agence France-Presse International News, 11 December; Iraq determined to push for total lifting of embargo, Agence France-Presse International News, 11 December.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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