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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 45, April 2000

More Preparations Without Progress for UNMOVIC

Addressing the Security Council on April 13, Hans Blix, the Chair of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission for Iraq (UNMOVIC), outlined an organizational plan, set out in a report released on April 6, designed to enable a conclusive certification of Iraq's fulfilment of its post-Gulf War disarmament obligations, thus allowing the permanent lifting of sanctions which are widely acknowledged to have contributed to horrendous civilian suffering in the country. UNMOVIC was established by Security Council resolution 1284 of December 1999 without the support of three Permanent members, China, France and Russia, who feared that it would repeat the perceived mistakes and failures of the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) whose inconclusive monitoring and inspection activities were finally brought to an end by the December 1998 US-UK bombardment of Iraqi facilities. For its part, Iraq immediately and fiercely rejected the new Commission, saying there would no more inspections under any circumstances and insisting that it had fulfilled all its obligations and was thus entitled to the full and immediate lifting of sanctions.

Blix's plan sought to reassure both Iraq and doubters within the Council that it would act independently and on behalf of the UN - a major are of concern following accusations of US domination of, and even espionage within, UNSCOM. Speaking to reporters on April 7, Blix stressed that UNMOVIC personnel "shall neither seek nor receive instructions from any Government," and insisted that "member states shall not seek to influence them in the discharge of their responsibilities…" Although the Council unanimously backed the plan - which envisages a New York-based core staff of 40, to attend a six-week training programme this summer - it was clear that disquiet persisted. In an April 14 statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry observed:

"At first sight this [plan] is a 'technical' matter… Nevertheless, fundamental questions are arising anew, questions involved in the restoration of UN cooperation with Iraq.

As everybody knows, Russia, along with some other Security Council members, could not support resolution 1284 because of its vague and ambiguous wording. Regrettably, Blix's report is not free from similar shortcomings… One of its major deficiencies is lack of a tangible political component, one that could balance out the activities of the new monitoring and verification mechanisms and help avoid possible conflicts and disputes with Iraq.

The report fails to clearly set forth procedures for inspections, sampling or air monitoring, or mention any need to agree such procedures with Baghdad. … [P]recisely these questions gave rise to quite a few acute problems during the operations of [UNSCOM]… Nor can we share the inflated assessment offered by the report of the experience of the personnel of that Commission, which compromised itself. There must be no return to [former UNSCOM Chair Richard] Butler's modus operandi.

The practical aspects of the work of the new Commission call for substantive fine-tuning. Russia proceeds from the assumption that follow-up steps to implement Blix's report will be taken in consultation with Security Council members, as stipulated in the Council's reaction to this document. Our ultimate assessment of the steps taken to implement the disarmament section of resolution 1284 will depend on what specific forms the proposed outlines finally take."

Iraq, meanwhile, was predictably dismissive of the adoption of the Blix plan. According to Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, speaking on April 15: "What has been issued by the Security Council concerning the Commission which they have set up does not mean anything to us… I have clearly said that this resolution 1284 is unjust and cheating and therefore we cannot deal with it… Any resolution which does not meet Iraq's legitimate rights in removing the embargo and denouncing aggression is not acceptable… I have never hinted that Iraq will deal with this resolution… It is a treacherous resolution with which we cannot cooperate…"

Speaking to reporters after the Council adoption of the plan, Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov suggested that there might be "a good chance" of Iraqi cooperation with UNMOVIC if the US and UK stopped their campaign of airstrikes in support of the 'no-fly zones' in the north and south of Iraq. If the strikes continue, Lavrov stated, "then I don't believe the atmospherics would be right for any hope of success." According to Iraq, American and British airstrikes in the southern zone on April 6 killed 14 civilians, the worst single toll since the 19 civilian deaths Baghdad claims resulted from an August 17, 1999 strike. Both Russia and China expressed belief in the credibility of Iraq's grim figures, and strongly criticised the US-UK strategy. According to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement issued on April 7: "These facts cannot but cause serious concern, the more so [in] that these actions are being carried out virtually on a daily basis in the so-called no-fly zones and are absolutely illegitimate from the point of view of international law. They also directly contradict the present diplomatic efforts to ensure fulfilment of…resolution 1284… The hypocritical nature of the loud campaign of charges in connection with the lawful measures taken by the Russian authorities to uproot terrorism on its own soil becomes particularly evident against this background." A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson noted (April 7): "China is…deeply disturbed over the serious civilian casualties… The creation of a 'no-fly zone;' in Iraq has violated the UN Charter and norms governing international relations. … The US and the UK should abolish immediately the 'no-fly zone' and stop their military actions in the region."

The Security Council debated the humanitarian situation in Iraq on March 24. Secretary-General Kofi Annan stressed that the mechanism set up to relieve suffering - the 'oil-for-food' programme - was not yet in a position to work to full effect:

"[T]he oil-for-food programme has been in existence for a little over three years. … It has undoubtedly brought…some relief, but many of the essential needs of the population remain unsatisfied. … [A]s a result of decisions made by this Council…the list of items Iraq is allowed to import has been considerably expanded and liberalized. And now, under the terms of resolution 1284, the ceiling on oil exports has been completely eliminated. … However, Iraq's oil industry is seriously hampered by lack of spare parts and equipment, and this threatens to undermine the programme's income in the long term. … I should also mention that many of the 'holds' on contract applications [principally placed by the US and UK]…do have a direct negative impact on the humanitarian programme, and on efforts to rehabilitate Iraq's infrastructure, most of which is in appalling disrepair. We need a mechanism to review these holds…"

Acting on these concerns, on March 31 the Council unanimously adopted resolution 1293, doubling, to $600 million, the funds with which Iraq can purchase spare parts and equipment for its oil industry.

Addressing the sanctions issue more generally in his March 24 speech, Annan concluded: "[T]he humanitarian situation in Iraq poses a serious moral dilemma for this Organization. The United Nations has always been on the side of the vulnerable and the weak, and has always sought to relieve suffering, yet here we are accused of causing suffering to an entire population. We are in danger of losing the argument, or the propaganda war - if we haven't already lost it - about who is responsible for this situation…

I am particularly concerned about the situation of Iraqi children, whose suffering and, in all too many cases, untimely death has been documented in the report prepared by UNICEF and the Iraqi Health ministry last year. … We cannot in all conscience ignore such reports, or assume that they are wrong. … [T]he Council should seek every opportunity to alleviate the suffering of the population, who are after all not the intended target of the sanctions. That said, all of us must realize that the people of a state which is the object of sanctions must always in some degree be victims… The only satisfactory outcome of any such situation is for the state in question to return to full compliance with the decisions of the Council, so that sanctions can be ended as quickly as possible."

Both the US and UK defended themselves against strong criticism from other Council members of the holds placed by them on humanitarian contracts. UK Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock stated: "The United Kingdom will process its examination of contracts quickly and objectively. But we will not be diverted from carrying our share of responsibility to prevent Iraq from disarming." US Deputy Ambassador James Cunningham laid the overwhelming responsibility for the crisis on the Iraqi Government, accusing it of "cynical manipulation of civilian suffering in an effort to obtain the lifting of sanctions without compliance." Cunningham added: "Iraq has consistently underspent on education, and has chosen to build palaces over building schools. Even now, seven phases into the [oil-for-food] programme, Iraq consistently underorders foodstuffs and has never met the minimum calorie and protein targets set by the Secretary-General, despite record-breaking revenues…"

On March 29, the Secretary-General announced the appointment of Tun Myat of Myanmar (Burma) to replace Hans von Sponeck of Germany as UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq. Von Sponeck resigned in February in protest at the impact of sanctions.

On March 26, an article in the New York Times alleged Iraqi-North Korean collaboration on the construction of a ballistic missile factory near Khartoum, Sudan. Former UNSCOM Chair Richard Butler reacted to the report by telling NBC television (March 26): "The bottom line is, they're doing it again… They're trying to break out in the vital area of longer range missiles… It would be utter folly not to assume they are back in the business of making chemical and biological warheads for such missiles…" Speaking on the same programme, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott warned: "If we confirm that this is going on in Khartoum, we should be prepared to take action against that. And I'm talking about military action…"

Reports: Secretary-General says Security Council should seek every opportunity to alleviate suffering of people of Iraq, United Nations press Release SG/SM/7338, March 24; Security Council meets to consider humanitarian situation in Iraq; Secretary-General describes 'moral dilemma' for United Nations, United Nations Press Release SC/6833, March 24; Under attack, US defends keeping Iraqi sanctions, Reuters, March 24; US under fire in UN Council on Iraqi policy, Reuters, March 25; UN's Iraq Liaison bids farewell, Associated Press, March 26; Sen. Lott says Iraq missile plant report alarming, Reuters, March 26; Text - Ambassador Cunningham's Security Council remarks on Iraq, US State Department (Washington File), March 27; Secretary-General appoints Tun Myat of Myanmar as United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, United Nations Press Release SG/A/727, March 29; Security Council, adopting resolution 1293 (2000) unanimously, doubles amount Iraq may spend for oil spare parts, equipment, United Nations Press Release SC/6838, March 31; Iraq says 14 die in Western air strikes, Reuters, April 6; Russian Foreign Ministry Statement 261-7-4-2000, April 7; Spokesperson on US and British planes bombing the residential areas in Iraq, Chinese Foreign Ministry, April 7; UN weapons inspector outlines plan, Associated Press, April 7; UN weapons inspection OK'd, Associated Press, April 13; Security Council approves Iraq weapons inspection plan, US State Department (Washington File), April 13; Russian Foreign Ministry Statement 299-14-4-2000, April 14; Iraq says entire UN arms program unacceptable, Reuters, April 15; Iraq rejects weapons check plan, Associated Press, April 15; Iraq rejects UN monitoring plan, Associated Press, April 15.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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