THE United Nations Security Council agreed over the weekend with an American strategy to deny, for the time being, either a cease-fire or an end to the economic embargo imposed against Iraq. By maintaining the mandatory punitive sanctions it imposed six months ago, the Council continues to deny Iraq the ability to sell its oil - if any of its production capability remains intact - or to buy its own food and other supplies.
The Council decided that before any formal cease-fire, Iraq must first implement a list of political and military preconditions outlined last week by President Bush when he ordered a provisional suspension of coalition military actions.
Under the resolution, Iraq must immediately:
Accept in principle its liability for damages resulting from the invasion and occupation of Kuwait;
Start returning all pilfered Kuwaiti property;
Cease hostile or provocative military action - including Scud missile attacks and any flights of combat aircraft;
Designate military commanders to attend a high-level delegation meeting with allied armed forces (which took place yesterday);
Return all Kuwaiti, third-country, and allied detainees or prisoners of war, or the remains of any who died;
Provide all information and assistance in identifying Iraqi mines, booby-traps and other explosives as well as any chemical and biological weapons in Kuwait and occupied Iraq or adjacent waters.
The vote was 11-1, with Cuba alone voting in opposition. Yemen, China, and India abstained.
``It will take the Council as long as it wants, or as short as it wants, to arrange a permanent cease-fire,'' a Western diplomat said. Some Arab delegates predict that the procedure will be drawn out until Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is out of power.
Meanwhile, the UN's Iran-Iraq peacekeeping operation (UNIIMOG) ended last week without any Council authorization for redeployment to the Iraq-Kuwait theater of operations, apparently because of US opposition. A number of UNIIMOG military observers, however, remain in Baghdad and Tehran, available for quick redeployment.
The resolution pointedly requests UN help for the reconstruction of Kuwait alone. President Bush said Friday that he didn't want to see one dime of US taxpayer money go to rebuilding Iraq. The US funds one-fourth of the UN budget, and the US-sponsored resolution seems to make clear the presidential ban should be extended to the UN system of specialized agencies and international organizations.
An Indian proposal to permit sending food, water, fuel, and electricity to Iraq was deferred. The US wants each shipment of food to Iraq to be explicitly approved by the Council's sanctions committee.
Yesterday, the sanctions committee met to consider a preliminary report on the condition of Iraq's civilian population submitted to UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar last week by a joint team from UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO). On the basis of the report, the committee may be able to approve requests to send food into Iraq. Bulgaria has pressed for permission for to let a shipload of baby milk held in its harbor since the invasion to sail to Iraq.
Last week, the committee quietly authorized an Iranian request to send, via the Red Cross, approximately 700 metric tons of basic foodstuffs. It was the first shipment to go to Iraqi civilians.
The only other food the UN has allowed into Iraq since the embargo has been 10,000 tons carried by an Indian ship, and a Soviet air shipment to Soviet citizens awaiting evacuation. The Indian shipment was distributed first to Indian and other Asian nationals waiting to be repatriated, then to East Europeans. There was enough left over, UN sources report, to be distributed to Palestinian and Kuwaiti civilians living under Iraqi occupation.
DIPLOMATS confirm that most of the Iraqi flights which took freed ``human shields'' to Europe returned loaded with medical supplies, exempted from the UN ban. Morocco sent 50 tons of medical supplies to Iraq via Jordan, and the WHO-UNICEF delegation brought 54 tons into Iraq via Iran.
A substantial portion of Iraq's medicine stockpiles may have spoiled after allied bombing knocked out electrical power.
The WHO-UNICEF experts cited the health risks of ``increasingly widespread use of the Tigris river and other heavily polluted bodies of water for drinking.'' Because there was no electricity and little fuel, they said, Iraqi citizens are not even able to boil the polluted water before use.
Even with careful rationing, the UN team reported, remaining fuel supply will not last more than five weeks. They estimated that food supplies, which now ``may give each person something close to the daily minimum calorie requirement,'' may well be gone within a month or less.
The team was unable to see enough of the country to give a full assessment, and the UN chief announced Friday that Under Secretary-General Martti Ahtisaari, who oversaw the UN's Namibia operation, would travel to the area ``at the earliest appropriate moment'' to make a fuller investigation.