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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 40, September - October 1999

Intensified Discussions, No Breakthrough over UN Iraq Policy

Concerted efforts by the Permanent Five (P-5) members of the Security Council to break the logjam over UN policy towards Iraq failed to produce a breakthrough in the period under review, producing only an anodyne paragraph in a statement on a range of security issues issued by the P-5 Foreign Ministers on September 23 (see Documents and Sources) in which they pledged "their wish to see a way forward" and "underlined the need for the adoption of a new, comprehensive resolution, based upon the disarmament and humanitarian objectives of the Charter". Issuing the statement itself proved a struggle. Speaking only hours before its release, US Secretary of State Albright observed: "You can't try to accomplish in a statement what you can't [agree] in a resolution... We've made pretty clear... the American position and it's very hard to separate positions in a statement. ... One of the goals of this resolution is to try and regain...consensus... But it is not consensus at any price". However, speaking after its release, China's Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Shen Guofang, described the statement as "a step forward... At least it shows that the [P-5] are willing to discuss the issue, to reach agreement and to push it forward". French Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anne Gazeau-Secret managed to describe the statement as "slightly encouraging".

The central, interrelated problems remain when, and how thoroughly, the Council should agree to lift sanctions against Iraq, and with what to replace the inspection-and-accounting regime of the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) which has been unable to conduct its investigation into suspected Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programmes since the joint US-UK airstrikes of December 1998. The US emphasis, largely shared by the British, is on Iraqi fulfillment of all its WMD-disarmament, -disclosure and -disablement obligations, in the absence of which sanctions are viewed as an important source of pressure on Baghdad. Russia, China and France place emphasis on using the conditional lifting of sanctions to encourage Baghdad to permit an UNSCOM-successor regime to take hold and to induce Iraq to act co-operatively with it to finally close the long WMD-inspections era.

A UK-Netherlands draft resolution, intent on harmonising these positions, has been circulating for the last few months. Under its terms - broadly supported by Washington - sanctions prohibiting Iraqi exports would be lifted for renewable 120-day periods once Iraq had co-operated in the establishment of a new WMD-investigation regime to be operated by a UN Commission on Inspections and Monitoring (UNCIM). China, France and Russia would like to see sanctions against imports into Iraq also lifted as part of the new arrangement, and on 10 September they introduced a draft resolution to that effect. The resolution would also seek to establish a system of financial controls over the proceeds generated by the lifting of sanctions, to avoid the diversion of funds for Iraqi rearmament.

The position of Iraq itself, of course, is clear. In the words of Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz (September 15): "Our legitimate concerns are known: the condemnation of the aggression against Iraq and the lifting of the embargo. Anything less than this will not be accepted…". At a Ministerial Meeting of the Arab League in Cairo on September 11-12, League Secretary-General Esmat Abdel-Meguid referred to two letters he had written to President Saddam Hussein arguing that "moving the Arab position in a positive direction toward Iraq requires brave initiatives and...calculated concessions to break the siege". According to the Secretary-General, the Iraqi President had replied that he was determined "to open a new page in Iraqi-Arab relations and formulate a unified stance against the aggression and embargo…". On September 27, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the United States, meeting in New York, unanimously called for "re-establishing UNSC consensus on Iraq based on the principles of the British/Dutch draft resolution…".

In the absence of agreement on the fundamentals of the impasse, agreement was reached in the Council on October 4 on increasing the ceiling for the amount of oil Iraq is allowed to export in order to raise funds to purchase humanitarian supplies. Under the terms of resolution 1266, Iraq is entitled to raise an additional $3.04 billion in the 180-day period which commenced on May 25, 1999, over and above the $5.26 billion ceiling specified at that time. The $3.04 billion figure is, in the words of the resolution, "equivalent to the total shortfall of revenues authorized but not generated under [earlier] resolutions…". In the words of US Deputy Ambassador Nancy Soderberg: "The resolution does not alter the overall structure of the oil-for-food programme, but will help redress the shortfall brought about by the lower world oil prices".

The period under review saw no abatement of air attacks by US and UK forces in the no-fly zones in the north and south of Iraq. On August 18, Iraq claimed that an attack by aircraft from both countries in both zones the previous day had left 19 civilians dead - a claim later denied by the US. On September 25, Associated Press (AP) reported that, since the December bombardment ended, the US and UK have dropped 1,400 bombs on various targets. According to Pentagon figures, quoted by AP, the cost of the operation in 1999 has thus far been $941 million, or $2.6 million per day.

Reports: Iraq claims 18 die in US-UK attack, Associated Press, August 17; US denies killing Iraq civilians, Associated Press, August 24; Key nations seek new policy on Iraq, Associated Press, September 4; Iraq sanctions-lift plan presented, Associated Press, September 10; Iraq demands UN lift sanctions, Associated Press, September 11; Arabs tackle dispute with Iraq, Reuters, September 12; Iraq-sanctions accord will take more time, Reuters, September 16; US will not compromise on Iraqi weapons inspections, Albright says, United States Information Service, September 23; Movement on Iraq resolution pledged, Associated Press, September 23; World powers still split on Iraq, Reuters, September 24; Text - US, GCC reaffirm commitment to peace in the Gulf region, United States Information Service, September 27; US continues low-key Iraq attacks, Associated Press, September 25; US wants Iraq to export more oil, Associated Press, September 28; Security Council increases ceiling on Iraqi oil exports under 'oil-for-food' programme, UN Press Release SC/6738, October 4; Iraq allowed to export more oil, Associated Press, October 4.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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