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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 41, November 1999

Security Council Working Hard for Iraq-Policy Breakthrough

Despite a number of positive pronouncements, and considerable hard work, in the period under review, the Security Council failed once more to reach agreement on a new policy towards Iraq. Indeed, severe difficulties were encountered even in agreeing the latest six-monthly extension of the 'oil-for-food' programme, with Russia wanting to relax, and the US to tighten, limitations governing the sale of oil to raise funds to alleviate the severe humanitarian crisis generated by nearly a decade of UN sanctions. On November 19, an emergency two-week extension of the programme was unanimously but unhappily approved by the Council. Iraq reacted with fury and scorn, announcing a suspension of all oil exports, at least for the two-week period of the stopgap deal.

As detailed in Disarmament Diplomacy, the P5 members of the Security Council are divided over the issue of the relationship between the lifting of sanctions, the fulfillment of Iraqi disarmament obligations and the role of any successor monitoring and inspections regime to replace UNSCOM whose work abruptly terminated with the US-British December 1998 bombing designed to force Iraq to co-operate. Broadly, the US and Britain stress the need to maintain sanctions at least until a successor to UNSCOM is in situ and receiving full assistance and co-operation, while Russia, China and France stress the need to include a relaxation of sanctions, and offer the prospect of their full and early lifting, in a diplomatic package designed to secure Iraqi co-operation in allowing inspectors to return.

Until recently, the result of this split in terms of Security Council diplomacy was a British/Dutch draft resolution, regarded sympathetically by Washington, allowing the periodic lifting of sanctions on Iraqi exports once a UN Commission on Inspections and Monitoring (UNCIM) has begin work, set against a China-France-Russia draft resolution calling for a straightforward lifting of sanctions on imports and exports once agreement with Baghdad had been reached (see Douglas Scott's article in this issue).

However, by early November agreement seemed to have been reached that sanctions both on exports and imports should be lifted if circumstances permitted, while French amendments seeking to establish a set of strict financial controls over the money made available to the Iraqi regime had eased some American and British concerns. The major stumbling blocks seemed to surround the questions of when it would be safe to take such measures, and how and when sanctions could be reimposed if necessary. According to the British UN Ambassador, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, on November 5: "No resolution will pass without Iraq being required to comply further with disarmament obligations if they are to earn relief from sanctions. Bit it is the precise degree of that that we are discussing." In the interpretation of US Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke, speaking at the National Press Club in Washington on November 3: "Intensive negotiations are going on in New York... We're very close to a solution. We're being held up by, basically, a very small but very critical issue, which is the United States' determination not to agree to any arrangement at all that doesn't allow the United States to make sure that Saddam cannot get the sanctions permanently suspended through various devices and tricks."

For its part, Iraq is maintaining an insistence that all sanctions should be lifted immediately and without conditions, and that the days of arms inspections are over. On November 9, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said, "The [new] Special Commission, for example, [might say it] wanted ten documents. If we provide only nine, the Commission would say Iraq did not cooperate, even if the remaining one was lost." On 11 November, Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan stated: "Changing the name [of UNSCOM]...does not make any difference... They are all spies and they try to collect security data... We will not deal with any resolution that does not lift the embargo completely and clearly, condemn the December aggression, and end the so-called no-fly zones." Throughout 1999, US and British planes have been attacking Iraqi anti-aircraft installations in the no-fly zones in the north and south of Iraq, occasionally causing civilian death and injury.

On October 28, Peter Burleigh, US Deputy Ambassador to the UN, set out to the Council America's new position that inspectors were needed in Iraq to ensure that the funds released from the oil-for-food resolution were not being diverted for improper purposes. In the absence of such verification, the US is currently blocking the implementation of a large number of contracts drawn up under the oil-for-food arrangement.

US Frustration at Iran Oil Deal

On November 15, US State Department spokesperson Philip Reeker reacted dejectedly to the news of an $800 million deal between the Royal Dutch/Shell oil corporation and Iran to develop two new oilfields. Under the terms of the US Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA), the US tries to discourage foreign companies from conducting business with the two states on the grounds of their alleged programmes to acquire WMD. The Act provides the US with the option of imposing sanctions on companies for engaging with Iran or Iraq. The legitimacy of ILSA is fiercely contested outside the US. In 1997, after a major diplomatic storm, the US chose not to impose sanctions in response to a gas exploration deal struck between Iran and the French company Total SA.

According to Reeker: "We are both deeply disappointed and concerned... We remain strongly opposed to investment in Iran's oil sector. We are going to look closely at the facts and assess the implications under ILSA, then determine whether sanctionable activity has actually taken place, and, if it has, decide in the light of our national interest, what action under the law to take."

Report: US 'deeply disappointed' by Shell-Iran deal, Reuters, 15 November.

Other Developments

On November 2, the UN confirmed that the co-ordinator of its humanitarian programmes in Iraq, Hans von Sponeck of Germany, would be remaining in his post for at least another year, following media speculation that the US and UK were pressing for his resignation or dismissal on the grounds of improper remarks about the human cost of the continuing sanctions regime. On October 28, von Sponeck had told the Security Council: "One should try to delink the humanitarian discussion from the disarmament discussion. And if you do that, maybe you can introduce a longer-term vision into this whole business of how 23 million Iraqi are being treated." Von Sponeck took over as co-ordinator from Irish official Denis Halliday, who resigned in 1998 in protest at the draconian health and other impacts of the sanctions. Defending von Sponeck, UN spokesperson Fred Eckhart observed (November 2): "There were complaints about his predecessor, and I think the Secretary-General feels that there will be complaints about his successor, too. I think that kind of criticism is just an inherent risk of this job."

Reports: Security Council must scrutinise oil-for-food purchases, US says, United States Information Service, October 28; UN monitors suggested for Iraq, Associated Press, October 28; UN says Baghdad Chief to resume work, Reuters, November 2; UN extends Iraq official's term, Associated Press, November 2; UN 'close' to Iraqi deal, BBC News Online, November 3; UN close to new Iraq policy, Associated Press, November 3; Five UN powers meet on new Iraqi policy, Reuters, November 5; Five UN Powers' talks intensify on Iraq, Reuters, November 5; Iraq slams proposed UN resolution, Associated Press, November 6; Iraq says told UN it rejects sanctions plan, Reuters, November 9; Defiant Iraq wants sanctions lifted, not eased, Reuters, November 11; Five UN Council Powers deliberate on Iraq, Reuters, November 11.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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