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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 48, July 2000

UN-Iraq Stalemate Remains Intractable

The UN Security Council remains frustrated and divided in its efforts to resume and conclude its work of verifying Iraq's compliance with Council resolutions imposed after the 1990-91 Gulf War. In December 1999 - against the wishes, if not the votes, of China, France and Russia - the Council established a UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) to succeed the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) whose work was terminated by the December 1998 US-UK bombardment. Iraq is refusing to cooperate in any way with UNMOVIC, is adamant it is in full compliance with all resolutions, and is demanding an immediate and complete lifting of sanctions against it. Caught in the middle, the Iraqi population continues to suffer from the impact of the embargo, despite UN efforts to assist, principally through the 'oil-for-food' programme.

Russia's frustration with the situation was expressed in a June 27 Foreign Ministry statement:

"Of late, the UN Security Council has been considering the set of issue[s] connected with the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. As a result of many years of economic sanctions against that country it is now on the brink of a humanitarian disaster.

On June 23, the UN Secretary-General informed the President of the…Council of the exchange of letters between the UN Secretariat and Iraq which gave the go-ahead to the eighth six-month phase of the UN…operation 'oil-for-humanitarian-goods'. As a result of the efforts of the Russian side, backed by a number of delegations at the Security Council, the parameters of the Iraq humanitarian program have substantially expanded in the last six months: the oil export ceiling has been removed, a quote has been introduced on Baghdad's import of spare parts and equipment for the rehabilitation of…oil-extracting infrastructure work $600 million for each phase, and a simplified procedure has been introduced for the approval of supply of some types of goods.

At the same time, the humanitarian programme, for all its importance, cannot take Iraq out of its crisis. A cardinal solution of the Iraq problem is only possible through the lifting of the sanctions…in conjunction with the creation of a new mechanism of international monitoring of Iraq's military programmes. Such an approach would meet the spirit and letter of the relevant resolution of the Security Council. We are working actively at the UN to promote such an approach."

On July 1, the New York Times reported that Iraq had restarted its missile development programme and conducted a test-flight of the Al-Samoud short-range ballistic missile. A missile with such a range - less than 150 kilometres/95 miles - would be permissible under UN resolutions. On July 4, Iraq's Oil Minister, Amir Muhammed Rasheed, dismissed the story: "These articles want to divert public opinion from the main issue of sanctions… Does Iraq have any inventory or any capability of mass destruction weapons? The answer is definitely [that] nothing is in Iraq since 1991… The sanctions…should be lifted because Iraq has fulfilled its commitments…" In the June issue of Arms Control Today, former American UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter broadly agreed with this view. By 1997, according to Ritter, "Iraq no longer possessed any meaningful quantities of chemical or biological agent, if it possessed any at all, and the industrial means to produce these agents had either been eliminated or were subject to stringent monitoring. The same was true of Iraq's nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities." On July 3, former UNSCOM Chair Richard Butler of Australia told the New York Times that there was not "one shred of evidence for these assertions," adding that such an analysis was "completely contrary to the advice that he repeatedly and robustly gave me" after 1997. On July 5, the US State Department issued a written answer to press questions about Iraq's current capability and programmes:

"We are concerned by activity at Iraqi sites known to be capable of proscribed activity, including producing weapons of mass destruction and long-range ballistic missiles, as well as by Iraq's long-established practice of procurement activity that could include dual-use items with WMD applications. In the absence of United Nations inspectors on the ground - carrying out the Security Council mandate restated as recently as December 17 in the new resolution 1284 - uncertainties about the significance of these activities will persist. As time passes, our concerns will increase."

Reports: The case for Iraq's qualitative disarmament, Arms Control Today, June 2000; Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 608-27-6-2000, June 27; Iraq restarts missile program, does tests - report, Reuters, July 1; US monitor now argues Iraq has little to hide, New York Times, July 3; Iraq ridicules US report on missile program, Reuters, July 4; Text - State Department question and answer on Iraq's missile program, US State Department (Washington File), July 5.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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