New push to lift Iraq sanctions

US diplomats fan out to capitals and lobby at the UN, but glitches may lie in the details.

Signaling a desire to move beyond the rancorous pre-war international debate over Iraq, President Bush says a "changed atmosphere" and "mood to work together" at the United Nations indicate an international desire to address Iraq's postwar needs.

The proof will come as US diplomats fan out to key capitals and step up pressure at the UN for the lifting of decade-long international sanctions against Baghdad.

The US sought to show the way this week by lifting some of its own sanctions against Iraq. Yet although members of the UN Security Council - including those that fought most adamantly to block any UN backing of the Iraq war - generally agree the road should be cleared to aid Iraq, glitches may still lie in the details.

"Machiavelli told us that after a victorious war you either embrace the defeated or crush them, but not to let them fall in between," says Robert Lieber, a professor of government at Georgetown University in Washington. "The Bush-Powell approach seems to be to embrace the defeated, or those whose position was defeated, for very practical reasons."

Despite the improving atmosphere, clouds of discord still hang over the negotiations. Russia in particular is insisting that Iraq's disarmament of nonconventional weapons be verified by UN inspectors before sanctions can be lifted. At the same time, some representatives of Security Council countries worry that America's move to ease its own sanctions could suggest a US willingness to simply disregard UN sanctions if it doesn't get its way.

Washington officials say the US move was necessary to clear away legal restrictions that were holding up Iraq's reconstruction. For example, under the US sanctions the US prohibited the export of computers to Iraq. But computers and other technological equipment is needed to speed up everything from aid shipments to rebuilding projects.

US officials continue to warn that negotiations will be difficult, but in the meantime the US tone is one of reconciliation and unity of purpose.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday the US resolution would be one "everyone will be able to rally around." Mr. Powell said the resolution would also authorize a special UN coordinator for Iraq's reconstruction.

The US approach suggests a pragmatic decision to subordinate lingering bitterness in favor of rallying the global community for Iraq's benefit, analysts say.

Powell - who already visited Syria, a rotating council member, last week - will visit council members Russia, Bulgaria, and Germany next week. He also received Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez, whose country opposed the war, on Wednesday.

In addition, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has been in Pakistan, another council member, this week.

THE US desire to work with the international community and address concerns is also seen in Bush's appointment this week of a civilian, retired diplomat and counterterrorism expert Paul Bremer, to oversee Iraq's reconstruction. A number of countries, including allies in the Iraq war, had expressed concerns over the quick appointment of a retired general, Jay Garner, to head the effort. Critics said the symbolism of a military figure directing the process would make broad international assistance more difficult.

Just what role the UN will play in Iraq's reconstruction - and in particular in its political refashioning - remains vague, and is likely to figure at the top of the list of difficult negotiating points. The US wants to open up the process, but not so much as to lose control of it.

"It makes good sense for the US to hold on to the leading role, but for practical reasons" - for help in paying the costs and providing security, for instance - "you want to widen this process to the UN and other international agencies," Georgetown's Mr. Lieber says.

This week, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said in a published interview that the need for a "legitimate political authority in Iraq... demands significant involvement on the part of the UN" in the political process. The emphasis on "legitimate" authority is seen by some as a warning that a purely US-sponsored government would lack international legitimacy.

Although France last month signaled a desire to work with the US by supporting a "suspension" of international sanctions until complex issues like disarmament can be addressed, Paris is off the US diplomats' travel list. Lieber says "that is as it should be," since France not only opposed the war but "went out of its way to defeat the US position," something one would not expect of an ally, he says.

Of particular concern to the US is Russia, which continues to oppose the lifting of sanctions. Russian officials say they want verification of Iraq's disarmament cleared up first.

But the US is convinced this position reflects more than anything else Moscow's concerns about its long-term economic interests in Iraq. As a result, the US is signaling a willingness to address those concerns.

For example, the US is telling Russia that its lucrative contracts within the UN's oil-for-food program will be honored.

Powell's words have indicated a change in tone on the US's part. Whether that change will be interpreted as genuine by the war's opponents, or simply as a pragmatic move designed to end sanctions, remains to be seen. Powell not too long ago was talking about the "consequences" France would face for having opposed the war.

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