United Nations, 18 June 1999 (RFE/RL) - The United States said for the first time this week that it is willing to suspend the oil export embargo on Iraq but differences with Russia and France have already put the plan in doubt.
Washington said Wednesday that it would support a British UN Security Council resolution that would suspend the embargo if Baghdad gave up the remaining information it is withholding on its weapons of mass destruction.
"By and large it is something the U.S. can support,'' said Peter Burleigh, the chief U.S. representative to the UN.
The British draft would also establish a new weapons inspection group to replace the UN Special Commission, which ended its work last December after the U.S. bombed Iraq to get it to comply with the inspections. UNSCOM was created by the Security Council at the end of the 1991 Gulf War and was charged with seeking and destroying Iraq's biological, nuclear and chemical weapons programs and its long-range missiles.
French President Jacques Chirac said France would not support the British draft because Iraq would never accept its terms. "It would be a somewhat pointless gesture which would not lead to any concrete results, but might strain the solidarity of the Security Council," Chirac said at a joint press conference with U.S. President Bill Clinton in Paris Thursday.
Clinton told Chirac they would have to agree to disagree. The issue is to be discussed at the Group of Seven industrialized nations summit in Cologne at the weekend.
"I think largely it's a difference over what is likely to be more effective,'' Clinton said. "The United States supports the efforts of the British and the Dutch and the Security Council because we believe that without the strongest possible inspection mechanism, (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein will attempt to rebuild weapons-of-mass-destruction stocks, particularly in the chemical and biological areas, and perhaps missile technology as well.''
France has instead proposed its own draft resolution which would also suspend the oil embargo and place monitors on Iraq's borders to prevent it from rebuilding its mass destruction weapons.
A third draft resolution has been in the mix for some time, this one from Russia. The Russians propose that new inspectors be sent to Iraq and that as soon as Iraq "cooperates" with them, the embargo -- and sanctions against imports -- should be suspended.
Britain and the U.S. reject this wording because they believe the concept of "cooperation" is too vague and could allow Iraq to export oil and circumvent the inspections. Britain also wants proceeds from Iraqi oil sales once the embargo is suspended to be paid into an escrow account controlled by the UN. This is to prevent Iraq from using the profits to rearm.
The British draft would only suspend oil exports for renewable four-month periods, not lift sanctions on imports into Iraq, which have cut deeply into the economic life of ordinary Iraqis since they were imposed immediately after Iraq's August 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Clinton said in Paris that it was time to consider suspending the oil embargo because of the "serious degradation of living conditions of the Iraqi people.''
In Iraq Thursday, Khalid al-Dauri, head of parliament's Arab and Foreign Relations Committee, said: "Any draft resolution which does not call for a complete lifting of the embargo is unacceptable and does not concern us. If there is a goodwill intention they should have consulted Iraq (on the new proposal),'' he told the Reuters news agency. "But they are wicked, insincere and do not want to lift the embargo.''
The Security Council has been deadlocked on how to proceed in Iraq since the U.S. bombing in December. Several attempts to narrow the differences between the British, French and Russian drafts have failed. A meeting of the permanent members of the council --Britain, France, the U.S., China and Russia -- was postponed.
Russia, in the midst of an economic crisis of its own, is owed large sums of money by Iraq from Soviet days. Western diplomats at the UN say that is behind Russia's push to have the embargo suspended.