Prague, 16 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- London's new proposal that it might be willing to suspend some sanctions if Baghdad answers remaining questions about its weapons programs represents a major new step in seeking to break a six-month deadlock at the UN Security Council over Iraqi arms inspections.
A new draft British-Dutch resolution circulated yesterday during a meeting of the five permanent Security Council members significantly changes the British position. Previously, Britain had insisted that any relief from sanctions should come only after a proposed new arms inspection commission certified that Iraq's original disarmament obligations had been met. Britain had kept that position, with the support of the United States, until as recently as last week in an earlier British-Dutch draft circulating at the council.
Western news reports say the new British-Dutch proposal calls for tasking the UN special commission's (UNSCOM) proposed successor -- called the UN Commission on Inspection and Monitoring -- with preparing a list of key remaining tasks for dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program. If Iraq cooperates with the arms inspectors, the proposal calls for the security council -- within some eight months -- to suspend sanctions for a period of 120 days to reward the compliance. The sanctions suspension would then be renewable at 120-day periods subject to new council votes.
The British proposal would also put into place financial controls on Iraqi government expenditures to assure Iraq does not use the sanctions suspension to re-acquire banned weapons. The controls -- not yet spelled out -- would likely restrict Iraqi imports.
Washington has yet to react officially to the proposal. AP reports that formal introduction of the resolution to the full 15-member security council is expected tomorrow or Friday.
The British proposal comes after a half year of firm deadlock at the UN Security Council over how to renew an arms inspection regime in Iraq. Efforts to develop a new UN arms control regime have been stymied by deep differences among the five permanent members which emerged following Iraq's repeated non-cooperation with UN arms inspectors last year and London's and Washington's use of air strikes in December to attempt to force Iraq back into compliance. In the wake of the bombing, Baghdad banned arms inspectors from returning to Iraq. France, Russia and China called for developing a new arms control regime and easing or lifting the sanctions to induce Iraq to cooperate.
Those differences divided the security council into two broad camps and left little room for a compromise. One camp, comprising Washington and London, favored imposing a new arms inspection regime on Iraq but argued that punitive sanctions must remain in place to enforce compliance. The other camp, roughly grouping Russia, China and France, called for accelerating or even setting a date for lifting sanctions to win Iraqi cooperation instead.
Terrence Taylor, a former British commissioner with the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) on disarming Iraq told RFE/FL from London that the disagreements have been so strong that neither camp has submitted draft resolutions to the security council over the last six months for fear that they would be immediately rejected by their opponents. Taylor said, "There are tensions between those two camps. I suspect that lies behind the lack of agreement on a compliance and inspection proposal, because no doubt particularly Russia and China would want to extract for restarting the inspections system a concession in the form of a more specific date for the lifting of sanctions, or a more specific set of conditions for the lifting of sanctions."
The new British proposal now moves London's position closer to a French draft resolution which is also in circulation among security council members but remains far short of a Russian alternative proposal which is also backed by China. A senior UN official close to the negotiations in New York, who asked not to be identified, recently outlined for RFE/FL the French and Russian draft texts.
The French proposal, first put forward by Paris in January, proposes a broadly revised arms monitoring effort coupled with gradually increasing incentives to secure Iraqi cooperation. It would replace UNSCOM with a new body termed the "UN Control Commission" which would concentrate on preventing Iraq from developing new weapons of mass destruction rather than continue UNSCOM's effort to seek out and destroy any remaining arms.
The French draft addresses Iraq's repeated refusals to continue working with UNSCOM by proposing to replace both UNSCOM's commissioners and its staff with arms inspectors who would be paid directly by the United Nations rather than by their own respective governments. It also calls for the secretary-general, rather than the head of the new arms inspection commission, to determine the degree of Iraqi cooperation.
Under the French plan, once the secretary-general reports the new monitoring system is working effectively, the UN would reward Baghdad's cooperation with an increase in the amount of oil it is allowed to sell. Continued cooperation would lead to a lifting of the oil embargo and ultimately the sanctions. To assure that Baghdad does not use its increased revenues to develop weapons programs, the bulk of the French proposal is devoted to details of how to also impose some kind of monitoring of the Iraqi government's expenditures.
Analysts say that the French draft has faced strong opposition from Washington and London, particularly over its proposal to replace not only the head of UNSCOM but also UNSCOM's staff. The Americans and British fear that would result in the loss of the whole bank of personal knowledge of the Iraqi weapons program built up by staff inspectors over the last years.
Instead, Britain and the Netherlands jointly sponsored an alternative suggestion under which any new body to replace UNSCOM would acquire the existing UNSCOM staff and limits any personnel changes to the top positions.
A third proposal, sponsored by Russia and also favored by China, couples setting up a new system for monitoring future Iraqi compliance with immediate lifting of UN sanctions. The Russian draft proposes that once the secretary-general reports the new system is operational the council should suspend sanctions on all non-arms related trade with Iraq. The Russian proposal is the shortest of the three drafts -- a recent version contained just 14 paragraphs -- and is more thematic than detailed. But analysts say it shows that Moscow remains determined to block any proposal to the security council which does not envision an early lifting of sanctions.
Analysts say that it now remains to be seen whether the new British flexibility will be fully supported by Washington and if it provides enough room to achieve a working compromise with the French ideas.
If it does, that would still leave two more important variables before any new arms inspection regime for Iraq could be achieved. One is the need to win the support of Russia and China, the second is to get an agreement with Baghdad. So far, Baghdad has maintained it is not interested in discussing anything with the council but a full and immediate lifting of the sanctions.