Washington, 26 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The United States is telling Saddam Hussein not to expect the removal of sanctions against Iraq in the near future -- despite its agreement to let U.N. weapons inspectors do their jobs.
State Department spokesman James Rubin told reporters Wednesday the lifting of sanctions is "a long way off."
The sanctions were imposed following the 1991 Gulf War. They limit Iraq's ability to sell oil abroad -- with revenues to be used only for humanitarian purposes such as purchasing food and medicine. In addition, Baghdad faces military restrictions such as the "no fly zone" that prohibits the Iraqi Air Force from going into certain areas in the country.
Rubin conveyed that message pointedly on Kuwait's National Day. He noted that today (Thursday) marks the seventh anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait from Iraqi occupation by U.S.-led forces.
"We celebrate the success of the international coalition in expelling Iraqi forces from Kuwait and re-emphasize our commitment to Kuwait's independence," Rubin said. "At the same time, we note the continuing legacy of Saddam Hussein's unprovoked invasion and brutal occupation."
The State Department spokesman also noted that as a "tragic reminder" of the Iraqi invasion, the fate of more than 600 Kuwaiti prisoners of war and missing remains unknown.
Rubin again defended the recently signed U.N.-brokered accord with Baghdad -- criticized by some members of Congress as not coming down hard enough on Saddam Hussein.
"This is a win-win solution for the U.S. administration," he said.
Rubin explained that if the agreement is honored, U.N. inspectors will be able to search for suspected weapons sites and avert a potential threat by Iraq. And, he said, if Baghdad reneges on the pact, the international community would be more supportive of military strikes against Iraq than in the past.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made the same point before a House of Representatives panel. She urged Congress to be patient and let the United Nations test Iraq's commitment to the accord.
Meanwhile, the United States and Britain are seeking a U.N. Security Council consensus to endorse the agreement, including the threat of force if Baghdad violated it.
The British ambassador to the U.N., Sir John Weston, said he is confident there will be a draft resolution on the issue soon.
Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov said, however, the agreement U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan signed in Baghdad was a legal document and did not need council endorsement.
The White House said Annan will likely to come to Washington next week to discuss the matter with President Bill Clinton.