US Turns Blind Eye To Jordan's Breach Of Sanctions on Iraq
EVEN as the Clinton administration nudges Jordan toward a peace pact with Israel, it is looking the other way as Jordan permits exports to Iraq that could help retool the warmaking capability of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.Skip to next paragraph
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According to United States court documents and interviews with US law-enforcement and government officials, United Nations diplomats, and businessmen from Mideast and Western countries, the White House has purposely remained idle as Jordan has allowed the re-export to Iraq of so-called dual-use equipment that can be used for both military and civilian purposes.
This conciliatory approach, which has become more fixed as the Arab-Israeli peace talks have gained momentum during the past year, sources say, is in direct contrast to the administration's tough public stand on UN sanctions invoked at the end of the Gulf war to strangle Iraq's military might.
President Clinton hopes to sponsor a historic hand-shaking agreement between Israel and Jordan at the White House on July 25. The two Mideast nations begin open talks on final details of an agreement today.
A State Department official denies that the US is lenient on Jordan's violations of the sanctions. ``That is nonsense, absolute nonsense. Any agreement we reach with the Jordanians [to promote new ties with Israel] will maintain and strengthen sanctions against the [Iraqi] regime and will not weaken them.'' But, he adds, ``we think it is well-understood that the peace process and the sanctions are not related and we certainly do not relate them.''
But other sources in the State and Treasury Departments, all of whom request anonymity, describe how Washington is increasingly tolerant of embargo violations that provide Iraq access not only to defense materials but also to international financing needed to rebuild its war machine. Jordan, a pivotal player in the US-sponsored Mideast peace process, is at the center of the Iraqi procurement network.
Question of worth
``The question the administration has to answer is: Is it worth it?'' asserts a senior US official who has been monitoring Iraq's compliance with the embargo. He asks whether it is worth jeopardizing the US policy toward Iraq for the sake of cementing Jordanian ties with Israel. ``It's putting Iraq back on the fast track, and all of this peace stuff will be moot if Saddam is able to build his arsenal and mobilize his military again,'' the official says.
Robert Gates, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) during the Bush administration, says, ``Part of the problem is that the Clinton administration has tactical instead of strategic plans. By tactical I mean a short-term perspective, such as responding to Jordan's pleas for help without a full consideration of the long-term implications of Iraq's possible reemergence as a destabilizing force in the Middle East.''
In the past month, the Clinton administration has withheld support for US Customs officials who have sought help from the CIA and the National Security Council (NSC) in investigating US-based Jordanian nationals engaged in the export of dual-use equipment to Iraq through holding companies in Jordan. Several indictments have been issued in recent months by grand juries and at least a dozen other investigations are under way.
A host of products - from the most basic, such as tires for military trucks, to the technical, such as agricultural and veterinarian equipment that can be used for biological-weapons programs or devices used for testing nuclear military equipment - are transported into Iraq through Jordan, US court documents show.
In order for the Customs Service or the Justice Department to proceed with Jordanian-related matters, they have had to go through the State Department's Jordan desk routinely since early this year, says a senior US official monitoring Iraq's sanctions compliance. ``Often the desk will [terminate] investigations in favor of diplomatic considerations,'' the official says. ``While the State Department maintains major leverage over timing and what will be allowed to be presented, the NSC itself is handling all matters dealing with Jordan,'' given the White House drive for a Jordanian-Israeli peace pact, he adds.
Another senior State Department official concedes that the administration is giving Jordan some slack and will do all it can to avoid exposing major sanctions violations and forced US action against the kingdom. ``We're trying to get goodies for Jordan right now [including Clinton's recent pledge to forgive Jordan's $900 million debt and plans to help it beef up Jordan's military]. The last thing we want to do is embarrass the Jordanians and push them away from the peace process,'' this official says.