A year after US and British forces bombed Iraq for thwarting United Nations weapons inspections, the Security Council will vote today on a comprehensive resolution on the Mideast country.
The document before the council covers a broad spectrum of issues, including the some 600 Kuwaitis missing since the Gulf War, measures to strengthen the flow of humanitarian goods, the creation of a new arms inspection team, and the rough criteria for the suspension of sanctions.
But the resolution has run into a crucial sticking point over this last point. Under the British-sponsored resolution that was tabled late Thursday night, sanctions would be suspended only after Iraq demonstrated full cooperation with the weapons inspectors. But Russia, which has been sympathetic toward Baghdad and has substantial financial interests in Iraq, wants a lower bar set for lifting sanctions. It thinks Iraq should simply show progress in working with inspectors within a short period of time.
Last week, furthermore, Moscow proposed a deadline for suspending the nine-year-old international embargo that was imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.
Though most of the Council's 15 members support the British-sponsored resolution, Russia has not given a clear indication of how it will vote and has not ruled out a veto as of Sunday morning.
Nevertheless, Britain and the US are pushing for today's vote. There is a sense of urgency to act before the end of the year because on Jan. 1, five new members will rotate into the Security Council for a two-year stint. The new makeup may not be as supportive of the resolution.
Moreover, most Council members are worried that Iraq may be rebuilding its weapons of mass destruction in the year since inspectors left Iraq and are therefore anxious to set up a new team.
Eight months of tough negotiations on this resolution have left diplomats fatigued and frustrated - but eager to move things forward. "Decisions are only made [when faced with casting a] vote," says British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, who is this month's Security Council president.
"We've asked for positions to be stated," he adds. "They've not been stated unequivocally; they've been withheld. So you have to test it by taking it to a vote."
France, which could benefit from big oil contracts once the embargo is lifted and has been sympathetic to Iraq, is expected to vote in favor of the resolution. And the fact that Russia has not declared its intentions to veto the measure has raised hopes.
Earlier this month, Moscow suggested in a letter to the Clinton administration that it may act favorably on the resolution if criticism for its military operations in Chechnya are muted.
Despite the small signs for optimism, the Security Council deliberations may all amount to an exercise in futility. Baghdad has repeatedly condemned the resolution. Its refusal to let inspectors back in would make the measure useless, says Saeed Hasan, Iraq's ambassador to the UN.
Washington hopes that a vote for the resolution by Iraq's sympathizers - Russia, China, and France - would persuade Baghdad to accept a new arms monitoring and verification team.
For the resolution to work, it has to be endorsed by everyone, says French Ambassador Alain Dejammet. "We still hope for a positive consensus."
Unopposed to status quo?
At least a few US officials would not be unhappy to see the the measure before the Council defeated today and as a result have the sanctions remain. In fact, some US officials see the embargo as their most valuable weapon in the war of attrition against Iraq. In addition, some diplomats here in New York and officials in the State Department believe that Iraq will continue to have and seek weapons of mass destruction so long as Saddam Hussein remains in power, regardless of whether inspectors return to Iraq.
Under a scenario in which the Security Council votes down the resolution, Washington would be able to say that it made major concessions and that the resolution offered Iraq a chance for relief.
The US could argue that the embargo should be blamed on those who defeated the measure. "[It] is the responsibility of those who voted against it," says a senior US official. "The Iraqis will have to go ask their friends who voted against this resolution how it is that they are going to get out from under the burden of sanctions."
Iraq is allowed to export some oil to buy food and medicine. The program is only approved for set durations, however, and its most recent phase expired on Nov. 24. When the Security Council initially failed to give a full six-month renewal, Iraq suspended pumping.
But last Friday, the Council voted to extend the program for six months, and Iraq has announced it will resume pumping oil for export this week.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society