Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, has been a steady voice on the Security Council pressing for Iraqi compliance with resolutions on removing weapons of mass destruction. In an interview with our correspondent, Greenstock expresses concern that world opinion is not focused enough on the security risks still posed by Iraq.
United Nations, 8 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The United States continues to be the most outspoken UN Security Council member in pushing for Iraq to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction.
But it is often joined by Britain in urging the council to maintain its vigilance on Iraqi behavior.
Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, spoke with our correspondent recently about the difficulties of carrying out the UN resolutions amid the growing outcry for an end to the punishing sanctions against Iraq.
It has been nearly two years since UN monitors have been able to conduct thorough inspections in Iraq for illegal chemical, biological or missile programs. In that time, divisions have emerged in the Security Council over the severity of the sanctions and the scope the inspections should have.
Greenstock says Iraq has used the delay to try to shift the focus from inspections to sanctions.
"It is of concern that people are beginning to forget the depth of responsibility on the part of the Iraqi government because they have quite a simple choice. It's their objective at the moment, clearly in Baghdad, to get sanctions relief without giving up anything on the armaments front. And the world is beginning to forget since they haven't used those weapons since the Iran-Iraq war, but they all know that they've got them and certainly have got the capability."
Greenstock says the recent emphasis in the media and the Security Council on the humanitarian impact of the sanctions is necessary. But he says it has started to obscure the world community's deeper responsibility for making sure Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are eliminated.
The British ambassador says he is encouraged by the progress made so far in putting together the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission for Iraq, known as UNMOVIC.
The council last month approved the mission's organizational plan. UNMOVIC's chairman, Swedish diplomat Hans Blix, is now putting together a team of experts drawn from UN member states.
Iraq has repeatedly rejected any plans for new UN inspections, saying it no longer possesses the weapons banned by the UN resolutions. Greenstock believes Iraq is measuring the will of the council and may change its position after UNMOVIC proceeds with its planning.
"It's a new commission and it's a new basis, which could lead to the suspension of sanctions quite quickly if Iraq responds. I don't think they've yet made the calculation as to whether they should cooperate or not because they wanted to see, with the arguments in the Security Council, whether it would actually come about or not. So we always suspected it would take a bit of time and I think it will still take a little bit of time."
In the meantime, differences within the council seem to be sharpening over the patrolling of no-fly zones in southern and northern Iraq by British and U.S. warplanes. The patrols began shortly after the 1991 Gulf War to protect Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south from the forces of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
In the course of these patrols, the warplanes regularly hit Iraqi air defenses that challenge the flights. Iraq says hundreds of civilians have died in those attacks and has protested against them as a violation of its territorial integrity.
Russia has also spoken out with increasing vehemence against the attacks from its seat on the Security Council.
Russia has been a constant voice in the council for softening sanctions against Iraq and carrying out inspections in a less intrusive manner than in previous years. A report last month in a British newspaper said Russian support may go even further. Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper said it had reliable information that Russian military officials have negotiated a 90-million-dollar deal to improve the efficiency of Iraq's air-defense systems.
The report has yet to be confirmed. Greenstock said that, despite differences with Russia, he is doubtful of the report:
"Personally, I believe that the Russian government would not willingly contravene the resolutions. When Russia has signed up to something, she sticks to it. I'm not saying they're not preparing for the day when there will no longer be sanctions and preparing their approach, if you like, to what used to be a good customer, that let them down. But I do not believe that the Russian government would willingly contravene sanctions."
Greenstock says that in spite of the criticism of the U.S.-British air patrols, they are serving an important purpose and will be continued:
"It is a lone experience in that we are carrying the sharp end of the responsibility for the security of the northern Gulf. The Kuwaitis and the Saudis and the Iranians and the Turks and the Jordanians and others are very aware of that."
But Greenstock acknowledges that the UN's handling of nearly 10 years of sanctions against Iraq has had its flaws. He says the UN system and the council have not been "professional enough" in targeting sanctions in ways that could affect the Iraqi regime more directly. He says the council's decision last month to seek improvements in the sanctions system might lead to better results in Iraq.
"If you monitor properly, if you get your customs inspections people working properly, if you get your information technology working on the financial front, if you get the kind of cooperation that we have amongst police forces in the world on drugs and terrorism and money laundering active on sanctions, then I am sure you could have a sharper effect on the people who matter."
Yet another issue connected with the sanctions regime against Iraq has risen to prominence recently -- the fate of missing Kuwaitis in Iraq since the Iraqi invasion nearly one decade ago.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan earlier this year appointed Russian diplomat Yuli Vorontsov to be his special envoy on the missing persons issue. In his first report to the council since Vorontsov's appointment, Annan called the fate of more than 600 missing Kuwaitis a tragedy. Ambassador Greenstock says the Iraqi response has been unacceptable so far but that the Iraqis could provide a confidence-building gesture by cooperating with Vorontsov:
"It's not good enough to have unilateral statements from the Iraqis that there's nothing more to give. We know there is more to give and they've been cynical about this. So let's not forget that Kuwait is traumatized by the Iraqi invasion and that trauma still exists in Kuwait because 600 or more are still unaccounted for. Yes, there are Iraqi prisoners of war left over from the Iranian war who need also to be thought about, but Ambassador Vorontsov has been asked by the Secretary-General to look at the Kuwaiti issues and we now hope that that is a peg for the Iraqis to hang a more forthcoming approach."
UN officials have said the recent return of hundreds of Iraqis who had been detained in Iran since their war in the 1980s provided some reason for hope regarding the case of the Kuwaitis. But Iraq has refused to acknowledge it is holding the Kuwaitis. It has so far not responded to messages from Vorontsov seeking contact.