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UN: U.S. Seeks Iraq Consensus, But Not At Any Price

U.S. Secretary of State says she's not giving up on efforts to build consensus among UN Security Council members on a policy for Iraq. Correspondent Lisa McAdams reports from New York that she supports lifting economic sanctions, but not before UN weapons inspectors are allowed back into the country.

New York, 23 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says the United States wants to see consensus on a UN Security Council resolution on Iraq that calls for a moderate easing of economic sanctions -- but not, she says, "at any price."

In a special briefing attended by RFE/RL late yesterday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Albright said broad agreement among council members would send a stronger message to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Albright said, though, that before the U.S. would agree to easing sanctions, Saddam must first and foremost show full compliance on disarmament, including allowing UN weapons inspectors to return to Iraq. The UN pulled out its inspectors late last year amid concern they were not being given full access to suspected weapons sites.

Albright said the process of establishing consensus on a new Security Council policy on Iraq was an ongoing process, evolving day-to-day and even hour-to-hour.

"But it is not kind of consensus at any price. I mean what has to happen here is [up to] Saddam Hussein -- we have to see compliance from Saddam Hussein on the disarmament aspect of this. And we do believe it is important to get the monitors back in, but if they are not in a position to do their job -- or the requirements [to allow the monitors back in are such that they can't do their job] -- then it becomes kind of Potemkin monitors. So I think the point here is that it's important to get this right."

Foreign ministers of the five permanent Security Council members are meeting in New York this week to try to work out a common position on Iraq.

The members, the U.S., Russia, France, Britain, and China, are sharply divided on Iraqi policy, with Russia and China supporting the rapid easing of sanctions, and Britain and the U.S. calling for continued monitoring of Iraq's capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction. The sanctions were imposed shortly after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.

Albright declined to confirm earlier reports that progress was being made. She said only that she hadn't given up and that a lot of work was still underway on the issue.

In addition to Iraq, Albright focused attention yesterday on the Middle East, holding talks with Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat and the Egyptian and Syrian foreign ministers. There were no reported breakthroughs, but Albright did say she hoped to meet the Syrian foreign minister again this week in New York.

Albright also said she sensed a real "seriousness of purpose" that validates, in her view, continued attempts to push the Middle East peace process forward. Israel and Syria are at loggerheads over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, which Syria sees as its own.

Our correspondent reports Albright's only obvious sign of frustration came when she spoke about what she called international "irritation" over the U.S.'s failure to pay back dues to the United Nations.

"I really feel it is very difficult for the United States to fulfill its leadership role so long as we are not able to not pay our this organization, and it undercuts our ability to do our work here."

Albright said the lack of payment of an estimated $1.7 billion was fostering resentment among other countries toward the U.S. She laid the blame squarely on Congress, whom she said failed to realize the toll that the lack of payment takes on American influence.

Critics in the Republican-led Congress have refused to pay the back dues until the UN implements reforms.

In addition, Congress has moved to cut some $2 billion from President Bill Clinton's foreign aid budget for the 1999-2000 fiscal year.