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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 55, March 2001

UN-Iraq Talks To Continue, No Breakthrough Reported

Summary of Developments

In New York on February 26-27, two days of talks were held between UN officials, led by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and an Iraqi delegation led by Foreign Minster Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf. The talks considered options for ending the impasse in UN-Iraq relations in place since the December 1998 US-UK air attacks on Iraqi targets. Civilian suffering caused by UN sanctions against Iraq were high on the agenda. Given the divergence of positions, summarised below, the talks unsurprisingly failed to yield a breakthrough. They were reportedly expected to resume, however, following a summit of the Arab League in Jordan in late March (see next issue).

Iraq is demanding the immediate, unconditional removal of all sanctions, insisting that it has fully honoured all its obligations under Security Council resolutions designed in part to ensure the verified disarmament of the country's weapons-of-mass-destruction programmes and stocks. The UN is broadly united in seeking Iraqi cooperation with the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, established in December 1999 to conclude the work of the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM). The Permanent Members of the Security Council, however, are bitterly divided over tactics and priorities. China, France and Russia are keen to see the sanctions-era end promptly upon Iraqi agreement to accept UNMOVIC inspections. The US and UK are searching for 'smarter' sanctions, less injurious to the general population, while insisting that maximum pressure be maintained on the Saddam Hussein regime - including military enforcement of 'no-fly zones' in the north and south of Iraq regarded as inappropriate or even illegal by Beijing, Paris and Moscow.

As reported extensively in the last issue, on February 16 US and British aircraft launched a large-scale attack on Iraqi anti-aircraft facilities outside the no-fly zones. A number of civilian casualties were reported. On February 26, the Iraqi News Agency published a letter to UN Secretary-General from Foreign Minister al-Sahhaf urging him to condemn the attacks: "Your refusal to clearly state your view on the no-fly zones that have been globally deplored does not prevent you from taking a clear stance on the recent aggression..." On March 7, the Russian Foreign Ministry reported that the "activity of US and British aircraft in the so-called 'no-fly zones' greatly increased this past February compared to the previous month." The Ministry statement continued: "The attention of the Anglo-American patrols was focussed mainly on the southern provinces of Iraq: out of 890 cases of intrusion into Iraq's air space, 714 sorties were run from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia (176 from Turkey). During the flyovers, missile-bomb strikes were dealt three times at civilian targets. In all, the US-British patrolling of the no-fly zones has, since it began in December 1998, resulted in 420 casualties. More than 1,000 people have been wounded among the civilian population alone. As is known, these zones were set up in contravention of the UN Security Council and are illegitimate from the international legal point of view."

Following the February 16 bombing, the US voiced suspicions that personnel from Chinese companies had been working in Iraq to help the country install optical fibre and telecommunications systems in military radars. On February 21, State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher told reporters: "We raise information that we have good reason to believe is true, and we ask governments to explain and respond... And, in this case, we have done this with the Chinese... [W]e are concerned about the issue of Chinese workers in Iraq; we see this in the context of maintaining the integrity of the Security Council resolutions and the integrity of UN sanctions..." On March 6, Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan told a press conference: "Relevant agencies have carried out a serious investigation... The result of the investigation is that Chinese enterprises and corporations have not assisted Iraq in building the fibre-optic cable project used for air defence."

On March 7, US Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a detailed and graphic account of his efforts to re-orient sanctions against Iraq. Addressing the House International Relations Committee, Powell noted:

"When we took office on January 20, and I stepped into the cockpit to see what was going on, especially with respect to the 'sanctions basket'...what I found was a plane that was descending, and it was on the way to a crash. The sanctions were starting to fall apart. Saddam Hussein...had successfully put the burden on us as denying the wherewithal for civilians and children in Iraq to live and to get the nutrition and the health care they needed. That was not true, but we had gotten that burden. And I found that our allies wanted to sanctions to go off - some of our allies did. I found weakening throughout the Gulf region with respect to the sanctions. I found the Russians wanting to make a serious change; the Syrians wanting to make a serious change; the UN wondering if this regime...can continue. ... [W]hat we've been trying to do...is to see how we could stabilise this collapsing situation... And one model we are looking at...begins with this proposition: first, let's stop talking about what we're doing to the Iraqi children. It's not us; it's him. Let's start talking about exactly what the sanctions exist for in the first place, and that's to keep him from developing weapons of mass destruction. ... So if that was the goal, let's take a look at how we're applying the sanctions and make sure the sanctions apply to that goal, and take a hard look at any other things we are doing within the sanctions regime that might be denying civilian goods to his population, and get that off our shoulders as a burden. ... I would not call it an easing of sanctions. What's been happening is not only an easing of sanctions, it's a verge of collapse of sanctions. This gives us a new floor that all can agree to. ..."

On February 22, the Russian Duma passed a non-binding resolution, by 359 votes to 2, calling for the full restoration of Russia-Iraq economic relations. The Russian government insisted, however, that there would be no unilateral withdrawal from the regime.

On February 28, State Department spokesperson Boucher elaborated on the Powell sanctions plan: "We are going to tighten the sanctions on weapons of mass destruction, tighten the sanctions on armaments, tighten the sanctions on the sorts of equipment and other materials that put the people of the region at risk. That is the direction that we are headed in... If you tighten the controls on the weapons of mass destruction and further define the dual-use equipment...then you can remove some of your restrictions, make the civilian stuff go more smoothly..."

Currently, the US and UK are placing 'holds' on $3.3 billion of contracts to supply humanitarian supplies to Iraq under the 'oil-for-food' programme. The holds are being placed on the grounds of suspected misuse of the items by the Iraqi government. On March 8, however, France's Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Yves Doutriaux, complained that the items involved included vaccines against measles, mumps, rubella and tetanus. According to Doutriaux: "Holds on vaccines are not only grave but incomprehensible from a moral point of view..."

Another factor in the civilian suffering appears to be the Iraqi government's decision to reduce oil exports, thus reducing revenue available under the oil-for-food arrangement. According to a report submitted to the Security Council by the Secretary-General on March 2, the "government of Iraq is indeed in a position to reduce current malnutrition levels and improve the health status of the Iraqi people... [There has been a] substantial drop [in oil exports, even though] no major breakdown in the oil facilities has been either observed or reported." In addition, The Secretary-General noted with alarm "widespread reports of additional charges imposed on buyers of Iraqi crude oil" in an attempt to circumvent the sanctions.

Citing such behaviour, the new US administration is overtly committed to the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime. On March 6, State Department spokesperson Boucher announced that the administration was in the process of finalising arrangements for a $29 million grant to the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a coalition of anti-Saddam groups heavily supported by Washington. On February 27, Deputy Defense Secretary-designate Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate Armed Services Committee had although "I haven't [yet] seen a plausible plan" for removing Saddam from office, "I would be very interested in seeing one." On March 5, Republican Senator Sam Brownback complained that the new administration was not seeking Saddam's downfall aggressively enough: "It seems that with Saddam Hussein, we're saying we don't like this man in power, but we're then not willing to go ahead and take steps to remove him."

On February 27, the Security Council received a fourth quarterly report from UNMOVIC's Executive Chairman, former IAEA Director General Hans Blix of Sweden. The report details the deliberations of the Commission - which was not involved in the February 26-27 talks - over its precise role and mandate:

"The fourth plenary session of the College of Commissioners was held in Vienna...from February 21 to 22, 2001. ... A principle issue before the College was a report on ongoing work by UNMOVIC staff to identify 'unresolved disarmament issues', which are to be addressed by the Commission. ... Although the inventory [of unresolved issues] must remain provisional until the necessary re-baselining is carried out in Iraq, the Chairman presented to the College the approach and method that UNMOVIC is using in drawing up the inventory. ... The College welcomed the efforts of UNMOVIC's staff and, at the same time, requested that further work be undertaken on unresolved disarmament issues, taking into account the different views expressed during the discussion."

The report also laid emphasis on the potential utility of "overhead imagery in support of its work", noting: "The College considered that overhead imagery is a complement to on-site inspections and a fundamental component of the instruments available to UNMOVIC for its work. The College welcomed further exploration by UNMOVIC on how it could benefit in the future from the increasing availability of overhead imagery from different sources."

Statements and Comment

UN Secretary-General Annan, February 26: "The spirit [of our discussions with Iraq] has been good and I think that, from the indications they have given, they are also anxious to find a way of breaking the impasse... [There has been an] important and healthy shift [in UN attitudes]... For a long time, the attitude has been 'this is our policy, this is the way we do things'... But I think recently we have put on the table that critical question, 'what should we be doing?'"

Secretary-General Annan, addressing reporters after briefing the Security Council on the February talks, March 1: "[Iraqi officials] stated their opposition on almost everything on the Iraq dossier from disarmament to humanitarian [issues] to prisoners-of-war and property, to the question of compensation... [The] disarmament issue is a crucial one... Iraq maintains that it has fulfilled...all the disarmament obligations and requirements placed on it by the Council and, of course, the Council members have said that if that is the case, let inspectors come in and check it out and certify it. One of the key issues we have to resolve is inspection or verification of what has been done or has not been done... [I told the Iraqis that] they need to comply with the resolutions and expectations of the Security Council. ... [T]hey will not let the inspectors in, but they are also keen to see the sanctions lifted...so I think they are a bit easier [in their position] on the monitoring."

US Vice President Dick Cheney, March 4: "[The Iraq policy we inherited is] a mess... What's needed here...is to look at it on a regional basis and look at all the facets of our policy in that part of the globe... And at some point, in the not too distant future, we'll be able to clarify exactly what it is we hope we can achieve..."

US State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher, March 2: "Iraq has done very little to try to demonstrate that any of its [weapons] declarations are true... If Iraq does not comply with its obligations, Saddam will remain trapped in the situation, in the jail that he has built for himself..."

US Secretary of State Powell, February 27: "[T]here are lots of ways to describe this idea. Some have said that they are going to be 'smart sanctions,' some have said that they are going to be 're-energised sanctions,' but really what we are going to see are strengthened sanctions against the threats that the sanctions were intended to deal with in the first place."

Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, February 26: "There will be no return for any inspectors to Iraq - even if the sanctions are totally lifted... You know our position in regard to resolution 1284 [establishing UNMOVIC]: we are not going to deal with it, and Mr. Blix is a detail of that bad resolution... First [visit] Israel, because they have atomic arsenals and all other arsenals..."

Foreign Minister al-Sahhaf, February 27: "We met the requirements [of the resolutions] and the sanctions are still there. ... [Now] we are hearing stupid statements [from US Secretary of State Powell], talking about 'clever' sanctions, as if he confessed that all that had been going on since 1990 is stupid."

Sergei Lavrov, Russian Ambassador to the UN, February 28: "While we should encourage the Secretary-General to continue this dialogue [with Iraq] and search for areas where we can make progress, at the same time it would be difficult for him to do so without parallel discussions in the Security Council, in particular aimed at eliminating the ambiguities of resolution 1284 [on which Russia, China and France abstained]..."

Ambassador Lavrov, interview on Russian television, February 28: "[H]as it been truly established that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq anymore? Especially with regard to nuclear weapons, it is a well-known fact that Iraq presents no threat... In the missile field, too, the subject is essentially closed. Of the many hundred missiles banned, Iraq has only two left, but there is full certainty that there are no engines in Iraq. So this item can also be closed. In respect of Iraq's chemical programme, certainty exists on most components. And the components that continue to raise questions simply cannot be used for the production of chemical weapons on account of the end of their lifespan. It is the same picture with [regard to biological weapons]... Here, too, from the point of view of UN inspectors there are questions not yet completely solved. But we are convinced that a resumption of the system of monitoring in Iraq will help solve all of these questions. The trouble is that now - after the bombings in the course of Operation Desert Fox in December 1998... - it is impossible to agree on the return of inspectors to Iraq."

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, UK Ambassador to the UN, March 1: "[T]he whole Council...very much welcomes [the fact] that there is a channel for dialogue between the government of Iraq and the United Nations... [But] there was nothing new [in Iraq's position] that enables us to move forward in any way. ... There has to be verification, there has to be monitoring, and there has to be inspections on the ground."

Note: see Documents and Sources for extracts from Congressional testimony on US Iraq policy by Secretary of State Powell.

Reports: Igor Ivanov speaks to PRC Minister of Foreign Affairs Tang Jiaxuan by telephone, Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 273-20-02-2001, February 20; Excerpts - State Dept. February 21 on China's alleged aid to Iraq, US State Department (Washington File), February 22; Russian House wants action on Iraq, Associated Press, February 22; Bush faults China on aid to Iraq for radar system, New York Times, February 23; Iraq raps UN Chief hours before Annan-Sahaf talks, Reuters, February 26; Iraq - no UN arms inspectors even if sanctions gone, Reuters, February 26; Annan optimistic Iraq seeking way out of impasse, Reuters, February 26; Iraq sees ongoing UN talks on sanctions impasse, Reuters, February 26; Fourth quarterly report of the Executive Chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission under paragraph 12 of Security Council resolution 1284 (1999), United Nations Security Council Document S/2001/177, February 27; Iraq scoffs at US sanctions effort, Associated Press, February 27; Bush defense nominee invites Saddam ouster plan, Reuters, February 27; Transcript - Powell, Patten press availability in Brussels Feb. 27, US State Department (Washington File), February 27; Iraqi, ending UN talks, dismisses Powell pledge as a ploy, New York Times, February 28; UN asked to clarify Iraq sanctions, Associated Press, February 28; Transcript excerpts - State Dept spokesman on Iraq sanctions, US State Department (Washington File), February 28; Transcript of the remarks made by Sergei Lavrov, Russia's permanent representative to the United nations, on ORT's 'Here and Now' television program, February 28, 2001, Russian Foreign Ministry text; Iraqi disarmament is crucial issue, Annan says, US State Department (Washington File), March 1; US - Iraqi weapons programs intact, Associated Press, March 2; Cheney says Bush team will clarify Iraq policy, Reuters, March 4; China talks tough to US over Taiwan, Iraq, Reuters, March 6; Text - State Dept spokesman on funding for Iraqi opposition, US State Department (Washington File), March 6; Beijing says no evidence found of Chinese role at Iraqi sites, Washington Post, March 7; Capitol hawks seek tougher line on Iraq, New York Times, March 7; On the patrolling by US and British war planes of the 'no-fly zones' in Iraq, Russian Foreign Ministry Fact Sheet, Document 368-07-03-2001, March 7; Transcript - Powell on US policy toward Iraq, US State Department (Washington File), March 8; UN head urges Iraq imports approval, Associated Press, March 8; Iraqi people suffer despite lucrative UN 'oil-for-food' plan, US State Department (Washington File), March 13.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.