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Iraq: French Propose New Arms Monitoring Approach

Prague, 14 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- France is attempting to break the stalemate over arms inspections in Iraq by proposing to progressively lift sanctions against Baghdad in exchange for Iraqi cooperation with a new monitoring regime.

French officials delivered the plan yesterday to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the four other permanent member states of the Security Council and to Germany, which currently holds the presidency of the European Union. Correspondents say Paris has left the details of the plan deliberately vague to leave room for contributions from its Security Council partners.

French officials are to follow up yesterday's unveiling with talks in Washington, London, Moscow and Beijing, as well as in the capitals of the 10 non-permanent Security Council members, the EU states, and close French allies.

According to France's daily Le Monde, the French proposal takes the form of what it calls three "ideas" for finding a new UN strategy for dealing with Iraq following U.S.-British air strikes last month to punish it for not cooperating with arms inspectors. UN arms monitors were withdrawn prior to the strikes and Baghdad has since refused to let them return.

Key to the French plan is a proposal to progressively lift the oil embargo on Iraq according to two conditions. First, that the Security Council put into place a long-term system for monitoring and preventing Iraq from re-acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Second, that the UN put into place what Paris terms "economic and financial monitoring measures" to prevent Baghdad from using its increased oil export revenues for arms programs.

Paris says that the sanctions, imposed by the UN on Baghdad after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, have penalized the Iraqi people while the Iraqi regime has profited from oil smuggling. Lifting the oil embargo, the plans says, would enable Iraq to "assure its development" and fulfill its international obligations.

The French plan offers Baghdad a carrot and a stick to cooperate. The incentive is that if Baghdad fulfills its international obligations -- in particular, those "concerning Kuwaiti missing persons believed taken by Iraq during the Gulf War" -- sanctions would be progressively lifted. The threat is that if Baghdad does not respect the new monitoring system, Iraq could face "new sanctions from the UN Security Council."

In making its proposals, France argues that intensive arms inspections since the 1991 Gulf War have practically completed the destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Paris suggests that any capability which remains in the biological and chemical areas -- which investigators have sought in vain for months to uncover -- now represents a minimal threat which the Security Council can accept.

The proposal does not spell out what kind of disarmament commission France envisages to replace or augment the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), created by the Security Council to monitor Iraqi disarmament. But it says future disarmament efforts must be characterized by, in the plan's words, "independence and professionalism." Paris says it believes, to quote, "no additional progress in disarmament can be obtained through an illusory return to former methods without any changes."

UNSCOM has frequently been accused by Baghdad of spying for Washington, charges which UNSCOM chief Richard Butler denies. Moscow has repeatedly called for Butler to step down in the wake of last month's U.S.-British strikes on Iraq, which were prompted by an UNSCOM report citing Iraqi non-cooperation. Both Russia and China have called the report provocative, while France has termed the punitive strikes a mistake.

Russia's UN ambassador Sergei Lavrov today called the French proposals the start, quoting, "of a way out of the impasse over Iraq." But he said they could not serve as the only basis of Security Council policy. Russia and China both back easing or lifting of the sanctions on Iraq.

UN chief Annan said the proposals were the "first concrete step" toward rebuilding Security Council strategy toward Iraq following last month's air strikes.

But correspondents say the plan is certain to run into serious opposition from London and Washington.

U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said yesterday that Iraq should not get sanctions relief until it rids itself of weapons. Washington considers the sanctions essential to enforce Baghdad's cooperation with arms inspections.

Under current UN resolutions, lifting of the sanctions is tied to arms inspectors certifying Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction, something they have so far said they are unable to do.