UN-Iraq Talks Continue as Security Council Agrees to Reshape Sanctions
On May 14, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1409 detailing a significant overhaul of the sanctions regime against Iraq. The new 'smart sanctions', as they have been dubbed, establish three categories of goods and material: incontrovertibly military items, all of which are to remain under a blanket ban; incontrovertibly non-military items, all of which are to allowed free entry, though regulated by specified shipping procedures; and nominally non-military items whose exclusively civilian nature is to be confirmed or questioned by the Security Council's Sanctions Committee. The items in this last category are set out in a 300-page Goods Review List (GRL), which cannot be arbitrarily expanded or contracted.
A US State Department Fact Sheet (May 14) summarised the basic features of the new regime, which will enter operation for an initial six-month period (May 30-November 25) and be subject to periodic review by the Security Council: "[The] UN escrow account for Iraqi oil revenue and restrictions on items of potential military and military-related use are maintained. UN export controls on purely civilian goods purchased by Iraq are lifted. The delivery of civilian goods purchased by Iraq is streamlined. All contracts for export of goods to Iraq under the oil-for-food programme are presumed approved unless found to contain item(s) on the 'Goods Review List'. The two UN inspection bodies already assigned to monitor Iraq will use the GRL: the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). They will examine all purchase contracts to see if they contain GRL items. UNMOVIC and the IAEA have the authority to approve all non-GRL items. Only items that are covered by the GRL, not entire contracts, will be forwarded to the UN Sanctions Committee for further review, and prompt approval or denial."
The diplomatic road to smart sanctions was long and hard, partly because of the level of detail involved in finalising the GRL, but principally due to a minority view on the Council, held notably by Russia, that a focus on revising sanctions detracted from the need to find a fundamental political solution to the problem of Iraq's refusal to allow weapons inspectors to return and certify the country's WMD-disarmament. From the perspective of the United States, the new arrangement takes the sting out of the damaging international argument that sanctions were deliberately targeted against Iraqi civilians. For the Bush administration too, however, the issue is not sanctions but the WMD-threat posed by Baghdad. Where most states see the answer lying clearly with a return of inspectors, with a strong hand to complete their task, the US, and possibly the UK, see a danger of the Saddam Hussein regime agreeing to an inadequate inspection regime to rush through a complete lifting of sanctions and save his own regime from a military attack now openly and routinely discussed in Washington.
As reported in the last issue, Iraq and the UN are engaged in high-level discussions concerning the return of inspectors. The first set of talks took place on March 7 in New York between Foreign Minister Naji Sabri and Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In the period under review, the two sides held three days of talks in New York - involving UNMOVIC Chair Hans Blix, a former IAEA Director-General, and current IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei - from May 1-3. A third set of talks is scheduled to take place in Vienna on July 4-5.
Expectation is mounting within the Security Council that Iraq is now close to agreeing to a resumption of inspections. On May 3, Annan described the second round of talks as "quite thorough" and expressed the hope that the "next time we meet, I hope we will be able to take some decisions and come back [to the Security Council] with some positive news. ... I don't want to drag this thing out." On May 15, James Cunningham, US Deputy Ambassador to the UN, told reporters: "I think a lot of people are telling us the Iraqis are seriously thinking about this now. As long as the Secretary-General and his people...think there's a chance of bringing the Iraqis to that point, for whatever reason, we think it's a useful thing to do. So we'll see after the next round."
In terms of how long the certification of Iraqi WMD-disarmament may take, both Blix and ElBaradei gave the same estimate to reporters on May 3. According to Blix, if Iraq can "provide cooperation in all respects...then one could come to a result within a time span of a year." ElBaradei echoed: "If we get full cooperation, we should be able to move toward the suspension of sanctions...in a matter of a year's time." On May 5, however, Foreign Minister Sabri, in a statement faxed to the Associated Press, failed to make any direct mention of inspections: "This new round of talks was frank, and the negotiations concentrated on granting Iraq's rights to protect its safety, ending the daily aggression against it [in the US-UK patrolled 'no-fly zones'], and lifting the unjust embargo."
In assessing the prospects for a substantive breakthrough in UN-Iraq relations, two major questions thus seem to remain open. Will Iraq genuinely and fully cooperate with weapons inspections, or once more prevaricate and interfere, dragging the process out for political reasons and/or to conceal evidence of its WMD potential? And will America's unambiguous commitment to 'regime change' in Iraq, combined with its growing scepticism regarding the utility of any inspections, allow enough time and space for diplomacy to work?
Selected Comment, I: Smart Sanctions
Iraqi UN Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri, May 14: "This is a new harassment on the Iraqi people..."
Ambassador Al-Douri, May 8: "The British and the Americans say this will make it easier for Iraq. They are wrong. The opposite is true. They will be able to hold up contracts as they wish..."
US Secretary of State Colin Powell, May 14: "[This is] a major achievement that has been under negotiation since the beginning of last year. ... With resolution 1409, the Council has agreed that firm, focused controls must stay in place to prevent Iraq from re-establishing its conventional, ballistic missile, nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programmes. The need for such controls will remain until Iraq complies fully with all its UN obligations. Today's resolution demonstrates the Council's continued determination to meet the needs of the Iraqi people. The Council's new system, based on a 'Goods Review List', effectively lifts UN controls on Iraq's ability to purchase and import civilian goods. This significant step will improve the Iraqi regime's ability to meet the needs of its people, unless Baghdad continues to subvert the oil-for-food programme as it does today..."
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, May 10: "I'm not an expert [on the proposed new sanctions regime]... But Iraq has a lot of border. They're porous borders. Quite apart from what's permitted and not permitted, there's a great deal that's moving across their border, and it is common knowledge in the world that Iraq has an enormous appetite for weapons of mass destruction and military capabilities. ... So if the question goes not to what's going to happen [at the Security Council] by way of the vote, but to...whether or not it's likely that those borders will be sealed and prevent things that will enhance Iraq's military capability, I think the answer is it will not."
White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer, May 7: "The previous sanctions policy was not effective because it was so riddled with loopholes... And this [new regime now in prospect] is a successful result of the United States' efforts that have been long going on... If you recall, some six months ago we were very close to getting this done. Now, we've worked very closely with the Perm Five, and Russia has again played a very constructive role in helping to reach an agreement..."
Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, May 14: "[The resolution is] designed to facilitate the pursuit of the UN humanitarian operation in Iraq and thus to soften the sanctions' negative consequences for the Iraqi population. ... The introduction of the new modalities of the UN humanitarian programme does not change Russia's principled position that the programme is a temporary measure and cannot be an alternative to the full-fledged socio-economic development of Iraq, which is possible only after the lifting of the sanctions..."
Syrian UN Ambassador Mikhail Wehbe, having failed to revise resolution 1409, May 14: "What is required from Syria now is to vote for a resolution which will extend the sanctions imposed on the Iraqi people, an Arab people who have suffered a lot... [We will vote for the resolution] out of concern for the real unity of the Security Council...and in an attempt to give the Security Council a new opportunity to retrieve its credibility. ... [We] will follow the implementation of this resolution closely - and its impact on the Iraqi people - when reviewing this programme after six months."
Selected Comment, II: Inspections, Diplomacy and War
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, May 3: "We had a very useful and frank discussion and for the first time since the departure of the inspectors in December 1998 they brought to the table their top experts in the disarmament area... The issue of the no-fly zones is [also] of concern to them, and also the discussion of regime change and the impact this is likely to have... If the inspectors go in, would it make any difference? These are the issues on their mind..."
Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, May 1: "The inspectors are not the only, or the pivotal, issue as portrayed by the US administration and other parties..."
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, May 1, referring to Israel's objections to a UN fact finding mission to the Jenin refugee camp: "Israel, after stalling and blackmailing, said 'I won't deal with this committee'. What did the Secretary-General do? ... The Secretary-General cannot challenge America and its ally Israel. He impedes the Security Council decision [on Jenin] while you hear every day Blair saying 'Iraq has to implement Security Council resolutions', Bush saying 'Iraq has to implement Security Council resolutions', and Kofi Annan himself saying 'Iraq has to implement Security Council resolutions'."
President George W. Bush, Press Conference with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Berlin, May 23: "[T]he world knows my position about Saddam Hussein. ... [I]t's dangerous to think of a scenario in which a country like Iraq would team up with an al Qaeda-type organisation, particularly if and when they have the capacity...to deliver weapons of mass destruction via ballistic missile. And that's a threat. It's a threat to Germany, it's a threat to America, it's a threat to civilisation itself. And we've got to deal with it. We can play like it's not there, we can hope it goes away. But that's not going to work."
President Bush, May 21: "[w]e certainly hope that the Iraq government will allow there to be full and open and unfettered inspections. We want to know. This is man who's denied inspections for years. I wonder why? I think the world ought to ask, why won't you allow for inspections? Every time they talk about inspections, he's got a certain kind of caveat and strings, and won't let them - [they say] 'you can't go here, you can't go there'. ... [W]e'd like to see inspections: unfettered, whole, free... We'd like these inspectors to go look where they want to look - just like Saddam Hussein agreed to do over a decade ago."
Secretary of State Powell, May 5: "The United States reserves its option to do whatever it believes might be appropriate to see if there can be a regime change. US policy is that, regardless of what the inspectors do, the people of Iraq and the people of the regime would be better off with a different regime in Baghdad."
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, May 5: "We're in consultation with our friends and our allies. But we have felt, the President has felt, that it's extremely important to make clear that the status quo is not acceptable with this regime. ... [Saddam Hussein] is not likely to ever convince the world, in a reliable way, that he is going to live at peace with his neighbours, that he will not seek weapons of mass destruction, and that he will not repress his own people."
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, May 10: "Under the UN resolution, Saddam Hussein is not supposed to have weapons of mass destruction. Therefore the focus should not be so much on inspecting...but on actually finding what they are doing and disarming them..."
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, April 28: "We've got to win the war on terror, we've got to stabilise Afghanistan. We have to do all that we can to ensure that we succeed there before we take on another mission..."
Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, April 28: "The real issue is: what comes next [after a war]? Have we prepared that landscape? Who is it that rules? Would we make the area more unstable? Would there be another conflict? Would we present to the Middle East even more problems, militarily, diplomatically, economically? ... Where do we get 250,000 troops since we have cut our military...by hundreds of thousands? I don't think we're close there yet."
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, April 21: "We have not taken any decisions on Iraq at all. We've identified weapons of mass destruction as a crucial issue, and it is. The evidence of Saddam Hussein on weapons of mass destruction is simply vast. Saddam Hussein is a threat and the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein. But we will take no decisions until we have looked at all the options... What we know from our experience of September 11 is that it's sensible to try to deal with these threats before they become fully operational rather than after".
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, House of Commons, April 16: "It may - but I emphasise that no decisions have been taken on this - be in order to secure his [Saddam Hussein's] compliance with international obligations, may be necessary to see an end to that regime. ... Our message to Saddam Hussein is very clear - if he has nothing to hide he has nothing to fear from weapons inspections. The view of the international community is also clear - that you must readmit those weapons inspectors otherwise you will be seen by the whole world to be in the clearest breach of international obligations."
UK Defence Ministry official Paul Schulte, expressing his personal views in an interview with Global Security Newswire, May 3: "Iraqi compliance with the obligations it accepted under UN resolutions...is essential to maintaining the credibility of disarmament and arms control agreements and efforts... If the UN can't reliably disarm Iraq of BW, with unique powers greater [than] will be achievable in any other regime, where else will disarmament be credible?"
Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, May 6: "Moscow welcomes the development of the negotiating process between the UN and Iraq, an idea which we have actively supported from the outset. The useful dialogue that took place marked an important step on the road toward settlement of the situation around Iraq, which must be comprehensive and must include the restoration of all-round cooperation between Baghdad and the UN in the disarmament sphere, to be followed by a lifting of economic sanctions against Iraq. ... Russia is ready to exert active efforts in order to do everything to contribute to the...search for mutually acceptable solutions to the Iraqi problem with a view to [a] full scale solution exclusively by political and diplomatic means in line with the corresponding resolutions of the UN Security Council."
Dmitry Rogozin, Chair of the Russian Duma's International Relations Committee, April 24: "Russia is searching for variants of coming close to a solution to the Iraqi problem and preventing a military action on the territory of this country."
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Press Conference with President Bush, May 23: "Saddam Hussein is a dictator... We're agreed when it comes to that. And we're also agreed...that it is up to the international community...to go in and exercise a lot of political pressure... We need to pressurise him so that international arms inspectors can get into the country to find out what weapons of mass destruction can be found in his hands. I mean, there is no difference there between President Bush and myself when it comes to the assessment of this situation. ... I have taken notice of the fact that...the President does think about all possible alternatives. But despite what people occasionally present here in rumours, there are no concrete military plans of attack on Iraq."
Unnamed European diplomat on the UN Security Council, May 23: "Maybe we are wrong, but the idea is that if you deploy hundreds of inspectors throughout Iraq, and they do a good job, and they are not prevented from doing a good job by the Iraqi authorities - so there are a number of ifs - then it will be very difficult for the Pentagon to justify...military action..."
King Abdullah of Jordan, May 12: "If there's any sensitivity to what's going on between Israelis and Palestinians now, moving on Iraq at this stage would be [a cause of] tremendous instability in the area, and one that I don't think the Arab world could handle..."
Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, April 29: "The military operation, the reason for it, is to assure that Iraq doesn't have weapons of mass destruction. The best way to assure that is to have inspectors..."
Related material on Acronym website:
Reports: Straw says no decision on Iraq attack has been made, Associated Press, April 16; Blair - no decision yet on Iraq, Associated Press, April 21; Iraq - Annan to meet with officials May 1, Global Security Newswire, May 1; White House says has no blueprint for Iraq attack, Reuters, April 28; Senate leaders say it's too early to take military action against Iraq, Associated Press, April 28; Iraq accused UN of double standards, Associated Press, May 1; US threats overshadow UN-Iraq disarmament talks, Reuters, May 1; UN-Iraq talks end upbeat but no decisions made, Reuters, May 3; Annan reports progress in Iraq talks, Associated Press, May 4; Iraqi foreign minister calls talks with UN 'positive', Associated Press, May 5; Powell wants new leadership in Iraq, Associated Press, May 5; Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 923-06-05-2002, May 6; Iraq - Annan hopeful of settlement on inspections 'within a month', Global Security Newswire, May 6; Iraqi compliance key to arms control future, Global Security Newswire, May 6; White House Report, May 7 - Putin, Mideast, Nepal, Iraq, Washington File, May 7; Russia delays UN vote on Iraqi sanctions, Reuters, May 8; Transcript - Rumsfeld says smart sanctions won't stop Saddam, Washington File, May 10; Rumsfeld says Iraq still building deadly weapons, Reuters, May 10; Jordan King opposes US action in Iraq, Associated Press, May 12; Security Council approves overhaul of sanctions against Iraq, Associated Press, May 14; Security Council approves list of revised sanctions on Iraq, extends 'oil-for-food' programme additional 180 days, UN Press Release SC/7395, May 14; Text - Security Council revises Iraqi sanctions list, Washington File, May 14; Text - Fact Sheet on the 'Goods Review List' for Iraq, Washington File, May 14; Text - Powell applauds new export controls for Iraq, Washington File, May 14; On the UN Security Council resolution on Iraq, Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, May 14; UN Security Council unanimously approves 'smart sanctions', Global Security Newswire, May 14; US told by 'a lot of people' that Iraq seriously thinking about allowing UN weapons inspectors to return, US envoy says, Associated Press, May 15; Transcript - Bush optimistic about US relations, cooperation with Europe, Washington File, May 22; Transcript - Bush, Schroeder say no concrete plans to attack Iraq, Washington File, May 23; Security Council works to avert attack, return inspectors, Global Security Newswire, May 23; Next round of UN-Iraq talks set for 4-5 July in Vienna, UN News Service, May 31.
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