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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 51, October 2000

Fresh Controversy over Iraq

The United States has expressed anger and concern over Russian and French flights to Baghdad which it says violate UN sanctions against Iraq. The flights, which both Moscow and Paris deny are transgressions of the embargo, carried humanitarian relief supplies as well as officials, medical experts, politicians, entertainers and athletes protesting against the ongoing suffering of Iraqi civilians.

On September 22, hours after the first French flight landed, France' UN Ambassador, Jean-David Levitte, told reporters: "There will be other flights... [F]or many years now, we have considered that there is no flight embargo..." The same day, the US Ambassador to the UN, James Cunningham, stated: "I expressed [to France] the American view that this is a violation of the sanctions regime that we deeply regret. We hope it doesn' happen again, but I don' have any confidence in that." According to State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher (September 22):

"At a time when Iraq continues to defy the Un sanctions regime - and will not even allow a UN team to inspect the humanitarian conditions in Iraq - France, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has allowed a flight to Iraq in blatant violation of UN sanctions resolutions. The flight was done in clear defiance of the UN and its established procedures. We fail to understand why the French government, which has discussed this at the United Nations for some time, could not wait twelve hours to gain Sanctions Committee approval of the flight."

Russian air raft landed in Baghdad on September 17 and 23. On September 18, the Russian Foreign Ministry made clear its position: "We continue to proceed from the premise that the relevant resolutions...do not contain any bans on regular passenger flights to Baghdad... As for charter flights [such as these] to deliver humanitarian relief to Iraq, the Sanctions Committee must only be officially notified of such flights on the understanding that no formal permission from it for such flight is required."

On September, the UN Security Council agreed to a small reduction in the percentage of the revenue generated by the '' programme allotted to paying compensation to Kuwait. France and Russia had sought a reduction from 30 to 20 cents per dollar, but after strong opposition from the US and UK, who saw the need for no reduction, a reduction to 25 cents per dollar was agreed. The percentage rate will be reviewed prior to every 180-day renewal of the oil-for-food programme. The agreement allowed the approval of a $15.9 billion compensation claim from the Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC) for destruction to its facilities during the 1990-1 Gulf War. According to UN officials, from December 1996 to September 2000 Iraq has paid nearly $20 billion in various compensation claims, over half of the sum going to victims of the August 1990 aggression. A large number of claims, from governments and individuals, remain to be either paid or approved.

On September 21, US Ambassador to the United Nations James Cunningham set out Washington' opposition to any reduction in the percentage rate: "The fact of the matter is, there is already more than enough money in the oil-for-food account... The problem is the inability to spend it rapidly enough. Reducing the amount of the compensation fund would have the effect of taking funds from an account that needs money...and putting it into an account that is currently in surplus. We have difficulty understanding the rationale..."

Also on September 21, the Executive Director of the UN Iraq Programme, Benon Savan, warned that the process of allowing Iraq to import spare parts and equipment for its oil industry was in urgent need of acceleration. Otherwise, Savan warned, "the oil industry may have a major accident. They cannot sustain the current production levels. They are producing now at the expense of the future because they are harming their oil wells and, in fact, they are destroying some of them irreparably..." Savan, speaking to reporters after briefing the Security Council, noted that the number of holds placed by the Council' Sanctions Committee on new applications for the import of spare parts and equipment amounted to $266 million. Most of these holds, imposed over concerns about possible dual-use of the items concerned, are the result of US and British requests, although both governments concede the need to improve Iraqi oil production infrastructure. In his comments, Savan both expressed hope that the Sanctions Committee might be able to move faster in approving applications, and was critical of Iraq for placing lax and inadequate orders.

On October 5, a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry detailed recent attempts by Moscow to tackle the general problem of the number of holds placed on oil-for-food applications:

"The already extremely difficult situation with [regard to] humanitarian supplies...is further compounded by a systematic blocking in the Security Council' Sanctions Committee of contracts for deliveries of both essential goods and equipment needed to keep industries operating that provide for the vital requirements of Iraq' population. As of now, the total worth of so-called '' exceeds $2 billion. Such a state of affairs cannot be regarded as satisfactory. Russia' Ministry of Foreign Affairs is taking energetic steps, including through bilateral channels, to unblock the situation. On September 27, consultations of Russian and US experts were held in Washington, at which the American side promised to show a more constructive approach to the problem of holds."

Iraq policy has been a prominent issue in the presidential campaign. During the second presidential debate on October 11, the following exchange took place between the Governor, Vice President Gore and debate moderator Jim Lehrer:

"Bush: ' would hope to be able to convince people I could handle the Iraqi situation better. I mean...

Lehrer: ' could get him [President Hussein] out of there?'

Bush: '' like to, of course. And I presume this Administration would as well. But we don' know. There' no inspectors now in Iraq. The coalition that was in place isn' as strong...'

Lehrer: ' feel that as a failure of the Clinton Administration?'

Bush: ' do.' ...

Gore: ' was one of the few members of my political party to support former President Bush in the Persian Gulf war resolution. And at the end of that war, for whatever reasons, it was not finished in a way that removed Saddam Hussein from power. ... [W]e have maintained the sanctions. Now I want to go further. I want to give robust support to the groups that are trying to overthrow Saddam Hussein.'"

On September 29, the US State Department concluded, in the words of an October 2 statement from Department spokesperson Philip Reeker, "a cooperative agreement with the Iraqi National Congress providing $4 million to advance the Iraqi National Congress' ongoing operations and establish new ones. Activities to be supported by these funds include strengthening the Iraqi National Congress organization and infrastructure and managing training carried out last summer under the Iraq Liberation Act."

Reports: Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 921-18-9-2000, September 18; US supports provision of Iraqi oil parts, envoy says, US State Department (Washington File), September 21; US wants to keep Kuwait compensation fund as is, US State Department (Washington File), September 21; French airflight into Baghdad, US State Department statement, September 22; Russian plane arrives in Baghdad, BBC News Online, September 23; Third Russian plane arrives in Iraq, Reuters, September 23; Ignoring UN, US opposition, French flight lands in Baghdad, Washington Post, September 23; UN Council agrees on Iraq compensation deal, Reuters, September 27; Deal on Kuwaiti oil claim to be approved in Geneva, Reuters, September 28; Text - Iraqi opposition gets $4 million in US support, US State Department (Washington File), October 3; Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 1019-5-10-2000, October 5; Excerpts - Bush/Gore second Presidential debate October 11, US State Department (Washington File), October 12.

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