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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 39, July - August 1999

UN Debate over Iraq Remains Stalled and Acrimonious

Search for Common Ground on Security Council Policy

As of mid-August, the outlook for Security Council agreement on the outlines of a new policy towards Iraq remained bleak. Two draft resolutions lie before the Council. A UK-Dutch text would open the possibility of a partial suspension of sanctions - those referring only to exports - renewable every 120 days, following the establishment of a new verification regime to be operated by a UN Commission on Inspections and Monitoring (UNCIM), replacing the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) out-of-action since the December bombing of Iraqi installations by Britain and America. A Russian-Chinese text - and also a French working paper - insists upon the suspension of all sanctions in return for Iraqi cooperation. The proposals also differ in many details and specifics, most importantly on what criteria Iraq should be required to satisfy in order to satisfy Council members that it has honoured its obligations under UN resolutions with regard to its weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) capability, stocks and infrastructure.

The Council discussed the issue on 28 June, after which the US Ambassador, Peter Burleigh, gave this assessment: "There are deep splits in the Council on the subject of Iraq and the disarmament of Iraq - but I am optimistic that there is momentum building around the British-Dutch draft... We are hopeful the Council will be in a position within a few weeks of adopting a new resolution on Iraq." US policy was spelt out in detail on 23 June by Elizabeth Jones, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Subcommittee on Near East and South Asian Affairs:

"As long as the current Baghdad regime is in defiance of the UNSC resolutions, we will never allow it to regain control of Iraq's oil revenues... Though there are some aspects of the draft which we will seek to improve in the course of Council discussions, we support the British-Dutch draft because it meets our bottom line criteria: real arms control; expansion of the oil-for-food programme on the basis of humanitarian need; insistence on a standard of full Iraqi compliance for action on sanctions; and denial of oil revenues to the regime. This is a tough, credible package that deserves Council support."

On 31 July, it was reported that Britain and the Netherlands were was close to conceding the point that all sanctions should be subject to renewable suspension. Such a move would certainly appear to be likely to meet with the approval of many Council members. According to Canadian Ambassador Robert Fowler (31 July): "The status quo is deeply intolerable... We envisage the suspension of sanctions on imports and exports in return for verifiable tasks."

Iraq has made plain its total disapproval of the UK-Dutch draft. On 2 July, a senior Iraqi politician, Abdul Ghani Abdul Ghafour, stated simply: "The proposal was stillborn... Iraq rejects the evil British proposal introduced in the Security Council and backed by America." On 22 June, Iraq's UN Ambassador, Saeed Hasan, described the draft as "a wicked programme" designed "to prolong sanctions on Iraq forever." Hasan insisted: "This is unacceptable for Iraq after nine years of cooperation."

As discussion continued, so did the military confrontation in the US-UK policed 'no-fly zones' in the north and south of Iraq. Among many incidents, on 19 July Iraq that US airstrikes had killed 14 civilians in the southern no-fly zone, on 30 July Iraq claimed a further 8 civilian deaths in the same zone, and on 14 August, for the first time since the December bombardment, Iraq fired anti-aircraft missiles at aircraft in the northern zone.

UNSCOM Laboratory Controversy

The already strained atmosphere in the Security Council over Iraq policy has been further embittered by the saga of samples of VX nerve gas left behind in an UNSCOM laboratory in December. Russia reacted angrily in early June when Richard Butler, UNSCOM's Executive Chairman, sought permission from the Council to dispatch a team of experts to Baghdad to destroy the samples, primarily to avoid any contamination or health-hazard. Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov demanded to know more information about the nature and purpose of the samples, which UNSCOM said were purely there to assist in assessment of materials provided by Iraq. According to UNSCOM spokesperson Ewen Buchanan (22 July): "It's not surprising, with Iraq having confessed to at least 3.9 tons of VX, that we would have VX amongst our standards, because that's what we were testing and looking for." Notwithstanding this protestation, dark hints abounded about the possible misuse of the material by UNSCOM to incriminate Iraq and so make it harder for the Council to lift sanctions.

On 24 June, the Secretary-General announced agreement with Iraq on "the composition of a technical mission to inspect and clean-up the Baghdad laboratories of [UNSCOM]...which reportedly contain dangerous chemicals." At Iraq's insistence, no members of the mission were drawn from UNSCOM personnel. By 22 July, the mission - headed by Jose Bustani, Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) - was able to conclude, in the words of UN spokesperson Manoel de Almeida e Silva, that "no contamination was detected in the laboratory". However, of the seven vials of VX found by Bustani's team, three had been opened and material removed. According to Bustani, in a letter circulated to Security Council members at a meeting called by Russia on 23 July, "whilst it is probable that any material removed would have been used for calibration purposes, this cannot be established definitely. Furthermore the team has no knowledge of how much reference material has been delivered to the laboratory since its establishment some years ago. You may therefore wish to seek further clarification on this matter from UNSCOM." To this end, on 26 and 27 July, China, France and Russia all sought to persuade the Council that the samples should be further analysed before being destroyed. China drew up a list of eight questions to be addressed: according to Ambassador Shen Guofang, "we don't really trust UNSCOM." The majority of Council members, however, argued that the purpose of the material was self-evident and entirely justified, leaving no need for further investigation.

On 28 July, the team destroyed all seven vials of VX and left Iraq. The same day, Iraq's Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan gave his Government's assessment of the whole affair: "I am very sure that they had brought the VX in order to contaminate [our] missile warheads... America's blackmail, robbery and accusations in order to prolong the unjust embargo on Iraq are well known. ... It is regrettable that the Security Council has not shouldered its responsibility."

On 3 August, Richard Butler, who stood down from his post at the end of June, accused China, France and Russia of using the whole VX affair to hammer the final nail in UNSCOM's coffin. Speaking on Australian ABC television, Butler stated: "To me, it was a bit like one of those scenes in a B-Grade Movie where someone shoots someone. They're obviously dead, but they go on and empty the further five bullets into their body... Sadly, I think what was going on was their attempt to absolutely, finally kill UNSCOM. They wanted...to demonstrate that UNSCOM was an evil organization that misled the Council."

On 9 August, US Ambassador Burleigh complained to Secretary-General Annan about the fact that no US (or UK) diplomats were present at the destruction of the vials, whereas diplomats from China, France and Russia were. According to Burleigh: "That this sort of misuse occurred in an issue of such high political importance and sensitivity is regrettable."

Editor's note: on 28 June, Annan told BBC television that the question of whether the US used UNSCOM for its own espionage purposes was not easily refutable - "I think there was a measure of justification in those allegations and Washington never denied it... That...was worrisome because it not only undermined UNSCOM but it could undermine future disarmament regimes... The suspicion will always be there: 'are they coming to disarm or are they coming to spy?'"

The Humanitarian Crisis

On 12 August, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) released the its first report since 1991 into child and maternal mortality in Iraq. Unsurprisingly, the survey registered an appalling increase in deaths, caused significantly, the Agency concluded, by the impact of sanctions. In a summary of the report, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy "noted that if the substantial reduction in child mortality throughout Iraq during the 1980s had continued through the 1990s, there would have been half a million fewer deaths of children under-five in the country as a whole during the eight year period 1991 to 1998. As a partial explanation, she pointed to a March statement of the Security Council Panel on Humanitarian Issues which states: 'Even if not all suffering in Iraq can be imputed to external factors, especially sanctions, the Iraqi people would not be undergoing such deprivations in the absence of the prolonged measures imposed by the Security Council and the effects of war.'"

On 13 August, US State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones blamed Iraq for the failure of international efforts to relieve humanitarian suffering - in particular, by means of the 'oil-for-food' resolution allowing Iraq to export oil to raise funds to buy food and medicine. Jones stated: "Like UNICEF, the US wants very much the Government of Iraq to expedite a targeted nutritional programme on an urgent basis." Jones announced a $1 million contribution to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has been appealing to Governments for funds to help bolster its efforts in Iraq. Also on 13 August, UK Foreign Office Minister of State Geoff Hoon told the BBC: "Could I make it clear the British Government has been constantly concerned about the humanitarian situation in Iraq, we have done all that we can to ensure that aid reaches the people of Iraq. We have no quarrel whatsoever with Iraq and indeed sanctions could be lifted tomorrow but for the attitude of the regime led by Saddam Hussein."

Reports: UN big five making some progress over Iraq, Reuters, 21 June; Rival Iraq plans introduced to UN, Associated Press, 22 June; Text - State Department's Jones on Iraq policy at Senate hearing, United States Information Service, 23 June; Agreement reached between UN and Government of Iraq on composition of technical mission to inspect and clean up UNSCOM's Baghdad laboratories, United Nations Press Release SG/SM/7044, 24 June; Annan says UNSCOM spying charges credible, Reuters, 28 June; US insists on Iraqi disarmament, Associated Press, 1 July; Iraq opposes UN sanctions proposal, Associated Press, 2 July; Disarmament team in talks with Iraqi officials, Reuters, 16 July; US says hits Iraq in self-defense, Reuters, 18 July; Iraq says US warplanes killed 14, Associated Press, 19 July; UN says team found no contamination in Iraq lab, Reuters, 22 July; Russia calls UN Council meeting on VX nerve gas, Reuters, 23 July; Iraq backers demand VX analysis, Associated Press, 24 July; Council mulls VX nerve agent probe, Associated Press, 26 July; Security Council allows destruction of VX samples in Iraq, United States Information Service, 27 July; Compromise in works on VX nerve gas in Iraq lab, Reuters, 27 July; Arms team destroys gas samples, leaves Iraq, Reuters, 28 July; Iraq says eight killed in Western air raid, Reuters, 30 July; Britain weighs easing UN sanctions on Iraqi imports, Reuters, 31 July; Butler chides Annan on arms probe, Associated Press, 3 August; US decries UN on Iraq chemicals, Associated Press, 9 August; Iraq survey shows 'humanitarian emergency,' UNICEF Information Newsline (http://www.unicef.org), 12 August; Edited transcript of interview given by FCO Minister of State Geoff Hoon for BBC TV, London, Friday 13 August 1999, UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office Daily Briefing, 13 August;Text - Rubin: US will provide $1 million to aid Iraqi people, United States Information Service, 13 August; Iraq blamed for not providing nutritional care for its children, United States Information Service, 13 August; Iraq fires missiles at Western warplanes, Reuters, 14 August.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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