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UN: Iraqi Oil-For-Food Deadline Looms As U.S. Seeks Changes

  • Robert McMahon

The UN Security Council must decide by the end of today whether to extend the program that provides humanitarian aid to Iraqis. Council members all support a continuation of the program, but a U.S. request to increase the number of Iraqi imports that must be reviewed could disrupt the unity displayed in the council's vote to renew weapons inspections in Iraq. A key declaration from Baghdad on its weapons programs is only days away.

United Nations, 4 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. diplomats today plan to propose a brief extension of Iraq's oil-for-food program to allow time for United Nations Security Council members to reach an agreement on increasing the number of goods that must be scrutinized before entering Iraq.

U.S. officials are seeking to make the first additions to a special list of goods that are reviewed for dual-use purposes since the council approved the lengthy list six months ago. Washington wants to include any drugs that Iraq could import to protect its forces from chemical or biological warfare.

Such drugs include Cipro, used after exposure to inhalation anthrax, and atropine, which can protect against the effects of nerve gas. Iraq recently ordered large quantities of atropine from suppliers in Turkey, raising concerns it intended to use nerve gas against any invading force.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte yesterday told a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council that the United States is open to a two-week extension of the oil-for-food program to allow time to renegotiate the list of goods that need to be reviewed. U.S. officials may seek to add as many as 50 items to the list.

Diplomats speaking after yesterday's council meeting said that the U.S.-proposed extension would likely be accepted. But they said a majority of council members want the program to be renewed for the normal six-month period after the extension expires.

Today's deadline followed an initial brief extension granted at Washington's request last week.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, speaking to reporters earlier in the day, expressed concern about the Iraqi humanitarian program, which has been in effect for six years. "We've always maintained that our quarrel, if any, is not with the Iraqi population, and the oil-for-food scheme was designed to help them. And I hope nothing will be done to jeopardize the interest of the population that we seek to help," Annan said.

A reopening of the review list could lead to new divisions on the council at a time when it is preparing to receive a lengthy report from Iraq on its weapons programs. That report is required under a council resolution adopted unanimously nearly 30 days ago.

Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov has signaled Russia might want to review removing items from the list of goods, such as some trucks. The United States opposes any such moves.

The council is already preparing for debate on Iraq's declaration on its programs for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

The head of the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate, Hossam Mohammad Amin, said Iraq will hand over its declaration on 7 December to members of the UN inspection mission and the International Atomic Energy Agency in Baghdad. If the report is delivered on time, UN experts in New York are expected to begin their analysis of the translated version on 9 December. The declaration is expected to be thousands of pages long.

Iraq has repeatedly said it possesses no weapons of mass destruction.

This month's president of the Security Council, Colombian Ambassador Alfonso Valdivieso, told reporters yesterday that it is not yet clear when the council will discuss the report. "[It] depends on the specific requests of the [Security Council] members. We cannot anticipate what will happen. We have to act in a very -- I would say -- pragmatic way," Valdivieso said.

U.S. officials say they will compare Iraq's report on its weapons programs with U.S. intelligence information. U.S. officials have said Iraq possesses tons of chemical weapons, the ability to produce biological weapons, and an active nuclear-weapons program.

Annan told reporters that Iraq's initial cooperation with inspectors must be maintained. "I have not seen any formal report from the inspectors. It's only been a week, and obviously the cooperation seems to be good, but this is not a one-week wonder. They have to sustain the cooperation and the effort and perform, and we will have to wait for the report of the inspectors," Annan said.

But U.S. President George W. Bush has said the signs are not encouraging so far that Iraq is cooperating with inspections. He repeated yesterday that the United States is prepared to enforce the disarmament of Iraq. "The fundamental question is -- in the name of peace, in the name of security, not only for America and the American people, in the name of security for our friends and the neighborhood, in the name of freedom -- will this man [Saddam Hussein] disarm? The choice is his, and if he does not disarm, the United States of America will lead a coalition and disarm him in the name of peace," Bush said.

The previous UN inspection mission in Iraq, known as UNSCOM, destroyed tons of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons and dismantled Iraq's program to make nuclear bombs. Inspectors from that mission, which ended in 1998, have said they did not have a chance to verify the elimination of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons.

The new inspection mission, known as UNMOVIC, has been given sweeping powers to inspect Iraqi sites. Yesterday, it visited one of Hussein's presidential palaces in its biggest test yet of UN authority.

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