IRAQI Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz will plead his nation's case today for lifting United Nations economic sanctions.
In an all-day open meeting of the UN Security Council, which imposed the sanctions in August 1990, Mr. Aziz is expected to argue that the UN embargo amounts to genocide in terms of civilian suffering and that Iraq deserves freedom for having complied with most UN cease-fire terms.
But Council ambassadors and top UN officials, charged with eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, delivering humanitarian aid to Iraqi Kurds and Shiites, and monitoring human rights violations, are expected to argue just as vigorously that Iraq's compliance still falls short of Council demands.
The crucial question, in the view of many diplomats, is how to persuade Iraq to comply fully with the detailed Council plan for long-term monitoring and verification of Iraqi weapon systems and to share the names of weapons suppliers.
In the end, the Council is not expected to modify the sanctions now up for periodic review. The scenario, one Asian diplomat says, will closely parallel a day of Council debate last March when Aziz also presented Iraq's case.
"There is a test of wills between the UN Security Council and Iraq, and I don't think the Council is ready to back off," comments Jeswald Salacuse, an international lawyer and dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.
Officials of the UN Special Commission overseeing the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (UNSCOM) say their detailed monitoring plan, passed under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, is legally binding and must be accepted. Information on Iraq's suppliers is crucial, they say, to give UN inspectors an idea of how much work remains by comparing the numbers of weapons sold to Iraq with the number actually found or destroyed.
Iraqi officials say long-term monitoring has already begun, and they cannot share data on suppliers for ethical reasons. They further insist that most relevant documents have been destroyed.
"Basically they tell us what they think we already know," UNSCOM spokesman Tim Trevan says. While noting that Baghdad usually finds documents to support its own arguments, he insists that an aggressive pattern of Iraqi deception has persisted through the whole weapons-inspection process.
For example, although the US State Department says it has conclusive evidence that chemical agents were used on civilians in the Iraqi campaign against the Kurdish rebellion, and UNSCOM currently maintains a permanent chemical-weapons-destruction team in Baghdad, "the Iraqis still refuse to acknowledge they have ever used chemical weapons," Mr. Trevan says. "How can you ... account for everything when they so clearly lie on something like that?"
In an Oct. 28 letter to the UN secretary-general, Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Said al-Sahaf says inspection teams have behaved in a "hostile" and provocative manner as if involved in "medieval inquisitions." The "true motive," behind the UN action, insists Mr. Al-Sahaf, is to destroy Iraq, deprive it of the means of self-defense, and clear the way for the West's "imperialist policy" aimed at controlling the region and exploiting its oil wealth.
Though the UN appears determined to maintain the sanctions until Iraq complies fully with its demands, sanctions alone may not be enough.
"The real crunch question is going to be, `Will we use force ... just to get the message across?' " says Eliot Cohen, professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.
Iraq has long argued that it has little incentive to comply, since the United States and Britain say sanctions should not be lifted while Iraqi President Saddam Hussein remains in power. Yet the UN cease-fire resolution links an end to the ban on Iraqi oil exports only to Baghdad's full compliance on UN weapons provisions. Lifting the oil embargo would give Iraq needed cash and is seen as the key to ending broader sanctions.
UNSCOM chief Rolf Ekeus recently floated the idea of getting a clear Council affirmation of the weapons-oil link as a "carrot" for Iraq. Iraqi officials say they are interested. Aziz may raise the issue today.
Yet UNSCOM officials say Al-Sahaf's recent letter shot down the initiative by suggesting that the UN resolutions covering long-term monitoring and suppliers mask "dangerous" intentions and merit a "radical review" by the Council.
"We took that as the rejection of our idea," UNSCOM's Trevan says.
Iraq clearly hopes that Security Council members may be tiring of their long, tough, and united stance against Baghdad and that the shifting sands of Gulf politics - and a new US administration - may prompt a reassessment. Iran, which recently staked a claim to disputed islands in the region, has embarked on a massive arms buildup. They may not like Saddam, but most of Baghdad's neighbors want no partitioning of Iraq. Turkey, Iran, and Syria all condemned the recent creation of a de facto Kurdish state i n northern Iraq. (Turkey's initiative, Page 6.)
Though Iraq is unlikely to win relief from the sanctions today, diplomats expect it to continue to press its case. Meanwhile, another UN weapons inspection team - the 47th - is expected to head for Baghdad sometime before Christmas.