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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 38, June 1999

UN Tentatively Considers Iraq Policy Options Amidst New UNSCOM Controversy


By mid-June, the UN Security Council still appeared to be some way from reaching agreement on its policy towards Iraq following the December 1998 US-UK bombardment and the expulsion of UN weapons inspectors. A draft resolution put forward by the UK and the Netherlands on 15 June, reworking proposals circulated by the two countries on 18 May, would allow for the replacement of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) on Iraq by a United Nations Commission on Inspections and Monitoring (UNCIM). Under the terms of the draft resolution, a renewable 120-day suspension of sanctions against Iraq, including the oil embargo, would be agreed by the Security Council once UNCIM and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have verified full Iraqi cooperation with the new inspections and monitoring regime. UNCIM would further be entrusted with drawing up a list, no later than 90 days after beginning operations in Iraq, of remaining disarmament requirements Baghdad would be expected to satisfy. In addition, the UK-Netherlands plan would allow Iraq to produce 500,000 more tons of oil, plus 1,250,000 tons of petroleum products, than currently allowed under the terms of the 'oil-for-food' arrangement between Iraq and the Council (see below), and would allow - after 120 days of Iraqi cooperation with the new Commission - foreign investment to enable Iraq to increase its oil-production capacity.

The US soon made clear its broad support for the 15 June UK-Dutch draft; Russia soon made clear its disagreement with it. According to Russian UN Ambassador Sergei Lavrov (16 June), the draft represented "a very large step backward" in proposing only a suspension, rather than a final lifting, of sanctions. The US position was set out by Ambassador Peter Burleigh, who told reporters on 16 June that the two crucial issues were "real disarmament" and "financial controls on the Iraqi economy":

"[The new draft] links the suspension proposal with actual compliance [on disarmament]... So we're pleased with that. ... The second thing is we insist on serious financial controls on the Iraqi economy so we can be assured of what they are importing - and this is also assured in this resolution. We have some problems with some small parts of it, but by and large it is something the US can support... The problem with other proposals has been that it's been cooperation on the ground with the new UNSCOM and there is a big difference [between cooperation and compliance]... One is simply allowing an office to open. That is what cooperation means - an office open and a functioning of the arms control people on the ground in Iraq. ... [But compliance involves] completing disarmament tasks. That is what we describe as compliance. So [in this draft] we have both cooperation with the new UNSCOM organization - they call it UNCIM - and compliance with disarmament resolutions. ... [The US will support] any suspension [of sanctions] triggered by compliance... But that's as far as we're prepared to go."

On 25 May, the Security Council voted unanimously (resolution 1242) to extend the existing 'oil-for-food' arrangement for a further 180 days. The arrangement specifies maximum proceeds in that period of $5.256 billion. Prior to the vote, France had attempted to amend the arrangement to remove the cap on permissible sales. However, although this was rejected, the resolution did open the prospect of raising the upper-limit at the next renewal of the scheme, scheduled for 20 November. After the resolution's adoption, Russia's Deputy Representative, Andrei Granovsky, stated: "There is a need again to stress that only the lifting of sanctions, and not this palliative, will help us overcome this social and humanitarian crisis in Iraq..." In his contribution to the debate, China's Ambassador, Qin Huasan, called on the US and UK "to immediately halt its bombing missions in the so-called no-fly zones" - missions which have been conducted with little respite through most of this year (see last issue, p. 60).

Another aspect of the humanitarian crisis - delays by the Iraqi Government in distributing medicine and other supplies - was detailed in Secretary-General Annan's latest report to the Council on the oil-for-food programme, debated by the Council on 21 May.

The period covered by this Review saw a fresh, sharp disagreement between the Executive Chairman of UNSCOM, Richard Butler of Australia, and Russian Ambassador Lavrov. On 2 June, Butler requested the Security Council to send a team of experts to Baghdad to remove or destroy chemical and biological samples left behind by UNSCOM when its personnel withdrew from Iraq in December. In a letter to the Council, Butler stressed there was no cause for alarm as the amounts involved were too small (e.g. around 2 pounds of mustard gas) to pose a hazard. The samples were necessary, Butler explained, to help calibrate testing-equipment, while the dispatch of a team to remove or destroy the samples was necessary "in the absence of periodic checks and certification". On 1 June, learning of the request, Lavrov called the Council together in emergency session, announcing: "It was found out that when UNSCOM was leaving Baghdad in December last year - hastily, just before air strikes - they left behind some chemical substances in the laboratory which is located in the Canal Hotel..." Lavrov told Itar-Tass later that day: "We do not know what miniature quantities are, and therefore we insisted, along with the Chinese and French delegations, that we should be given official information on what chemical substances are there..."

On 8 June, Annan announced, without providing details, that he hoped to dispatch a team to Baghdad to carry out Butler's instructions. On 15 June, Iraq - which is alleging, together with Russia, that explosives were also left behind by UNSCOM - said it would not permit the team to enter the country if it contained any members of UNSCOM.

Reports: Security Council looking at new plans for Iraq, United States Information Service, 19 May; UN Council votes to renew Iraqi oil, food plan, Reuters, 21 May; Security Council extends Iraq 'oil-for-food' programme for 180 days beginning 25 May, United Nations Press Release SC/6683, 21 May; UN concerned about medicines distribution in Iraq, United States Information Service, 21 May; Iraq oil, food plan renewed amid sanctions feud, Reuters, 22 May; Russia accuses UNSCOM of leaving chemicals in Iraq, Reuters, 1 June; Russia wants data on Iraq chemicals, Associated Press, 1 June; UNSCOM and Russia clash over UN lab in Baghdad, Reuters, 2 June; Butler wants Baghdad labs shut down, Associated Press, 2 June; Chief UN inspector wants new team in Baghdad, Reuters, 3 June; UN team will destroy Iraq chemicals, Associated Press, 8 June; Britain - suspend Iraq's sanctions, Associated Press, 15 June; Iraq balks at UN arms experts going to Baghdad, Reuters, 16 June; US would support suspension of Iraqi sanctions, United States Information Service, 16 June; US and Russia still far apart on Iraqi sanctions, Reuters, 17 June.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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