IRAQ still has several hurdles to go before its oil exports begin flowing freely again.
A joint United Nations-Iraq report to the Security Council issued Dec. 1 says Baghdad's recent acceptance of long-term monitoring of its weapons potential removes ``the major remaining obstacle'' to Iraqi compliance with UN arms demands.
But the UN Security Council resolution linking such cooperation to lifting the three-year-old embargo on Iraqi exports also requires Iraq to identify all past or existing weapons programs, including the names of foreign suppliers.
The report credits Iraq with releasing considerable data about its biological, ballistic, and nuclear weapons programs. Yet important gaps remain. Iraqi officials say relevant documents have been destroyed. UN weapons inspectors have been blocked or harassed in trying to do detective work themselves.
Rolf Ekeus, chief of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) charged with overseeing the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, also says it may take some months to set up a weapons-surveillance system in Iraqi industries, and that it could take another six months to be sure that the system is working smoothly with Iraq's cooperation. ``It's more a sequence of events than a timetable,'' explains UNSCOM spokesman Tim Trevan. ``We don't really have a fixed date.''
Iraq wants the oil embargo lifted immediately. Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz made the case in recent one-on-one meetings here with representatives of every Security Council member nation except the US, which he says refused his invitation. In a recent television interview, he said that by accepting UN terms without getting the reward, Iraq had been double-crossed.
Ultimately, the Security Council must decide when to lift the oil embargo. UNSCOM's judgment as to when Iraq has complied with all UN arms demands will be a major factor. But there is some division of opinion within the Council as to how much more Iraq must do. The US and Britain are considered the hard-liners. ``The Council's public position and action will likely be geared to the pace of the slowest, those who wish to be fairly careful about responding too rapidly,'' says an Asian diplomat.
Richard Murphy, a Middle East expert with the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, says the Council wants to appear unified. He says the Council will probably adopt the Clinton administration's cautious approach, marked by strong concerns about the spread of nuclear weapons and the desire not to allow Iraq to become another foreign policy ``embarrassment'' by ``letting it off the hook'' too easily.
Iraq may yet decide to take up the UN's longtime offer to sell up to $1.6 billion of its oil. Food and medicine have long been exempted from Iraq's import sanctions, but Baghdad says it lacks the money to pay for them. Talks on limited oil sales to allow such purchases have made little progress. The UN insists that one-third of the revenue must be used to compensate Kuwaiti victims of Iraq's invasion and to cover UN expenses. The UN would also monitor distribution of aid to ensure is shared with those most in need. Iraq says such conditions impinge on its sovereignty.
Some Council members would like to tie the oil decision to broader concerns over Iraq's spotty record on human rights and refusal to recognize the new 130-mile UN-drawn border with Kuwait. But a strict legal reading of the resolution tying weapons compliance to a lifting of the oil embargo allows no such latitude. ``The language is absolutely unambiguous,'' says UNSCOM's Tim Trevan. The larger concerns may play a direct role in a second Council decision on whether and when to lift a ban on Iraqi imports. The import sanctions are tied to a different set of resolutions than the export embargo.
Hooshang Amirahmadi, director of Middle East studies at Rutgers University, says the UN should be extremely cautious in any move to lift sanctions. Any ``deal,'' he says, is likely to increase the power of those around Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to suppress opposition. ``This is a military regime that is in love with war and conflict,'' he says.