Iraq's Impatience on Sanctions May Widen Split in UN Council

UN monitoring effort of arms destruction is seen as final hurdle

IRAQ'S impatience with biting United Nations economic sanctions is sure to be a major theme of Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz's address to the General Assembly tomorrow.

The remarks may further deepen a growing split on the issue inside the UN Security Council. Yet any lifting of the oil-sales embargo, part of the sanctions package imposed in August 1990 on Iraq after it moved into Kuwait, is not expected before mid-1995 at the earliest.

The Council's next review of Iraqi sanctions will not be held until mid-November. But early next week Rolf Ekeus, head of the UN special commission that oversees the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, is expected to report that a long-term monitoring system to keep Iraq from reacquiring such weapons finally is up and running.

That monitoring effort is widely viewed as the last major hurdle in the arms-destruction job. When the Council is satisfied with Iraq's weapons compliance, according to a controversial 22nd paragraph in a Council cease-fire resolution, the ban on Iraqi oil sales will end.

Both France and Russia, which have had strong trade ties with Iraq, favor a six-month test period. France is eager to tap Iraq's rich oil reserves and Russia is owed $6 billion by Iraq for arms and other purchases.

The United States and Britain want no specific probationary period. Oman and Argentina also support a more-cautious approach. US Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright says Iraq must show a ``pattern of compliance'' with all cease-fire terms including respect for its minorities and return of Kuwaiti prisoners and property. Iraq's record so far she calls ``a stunning failure.''

One condition not mentioned in paragraph 22 but supported by all Security Council members is the requirement that Iraq recognize the sovereignty of Kuwait and its UN-drawn border before any sanctions are lifted. ``I think that [Iraqi move] would significantly change the atmosphere in the Council,'' says New Zealand Ambassador Colin Keating.

Mr. Aziz has said that Iraq would take that step when sure that those calling for it have no hidden agenda. One Arab diplomat sympathetic to Iraq says the move is Iraq's last card and will be played when Baghdad is sure of a solid gain in return. ``After all,'' he asks, ``what could the Security Council do if Iraq stops cooperating?''

That is precisely what Iraq now threatens. Officials say Iraq will reconsider its cooperation with UN weapons inspectors unless progress on ending sanctions comes soon. In a front-page editorial this month, Babel, Iraq's most influential newspaper, says flatly, ``There will be no future [weapons] monitoring without the lifting of the embargo.''

PUBLICLY the Council is united in its efforts to get Iraq to comply with all cease-fire terms. Yet France and Russia, backed to some degree by Brazil, Pakistan, and Rwanda, say the oil embargo is a special case. Western diplomats say it was former US Ambassador to the UN Thomas Pickering who pushed particularly hard to get paragraph 22 in the first place.

``I'd like to know exactly what the US administration really wants in order to be able to start applying that paragraph,'' France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters here recently.

Iraq's oil-rich neighbors such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iran would probably have to endure a drop in oil prices if Iraqi crude oil moves onto the market. Yet several of Iraq's trading neighbors, including Jordan and Turkey, are hard hit by UN sanctions and face strong pressure at home to find a way out.

Yet even if Iraq were allowed to export oil, the Council ban on all imports but those used for humanitarian purposes may remain. In the past, the Council agreed to allow a $1.6 billion oil sale exception if Iraq agreed to distribute equitably the relief supplies purchased and support UN and Kuwaiti war-related expenses. Iraq refused. Similarly, talks between Iraq and Turkey to clean their oil pipeline deadlocked when Iraq refused to accept Council aid distribution terms.

In Iraq's view the Council's policy is largely US-engineered and politically motivated. ``I'm at a loss to understand the suggestion of impatience,'' says US Assistant Secretary of State Douglas Bennet. ``Iraq has obligations that are very clear.

Yet some day UN sanctions on Iraq will be lifted. Analysts and diplomats warn that all implications should be carefully thought through.

Thomas McNaugher, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, for instance, says the first victim of any end to sanctions is likely to be the Iraqi Kurds, who have been under an Iraqi economic blockade but getting protection and aid from the Gulf war allies and the UN.

``Is there a way to sustain that Kurdish safe haven without an embargo?'' he asks. If he were a US diplomat, he says, he would be looking hard for an answer because he feels the US has a strong obligation to the Kurds and because he is concerned that Iraq and Turkey, both troubled by Kurdish minorities, might make a deal to further repress them.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.