The decisions by France and Russia to send aircraft last week to Iraq have caused new divisions among the UN powers in charge of sanctions policy against Iraq. A UN meeting in Geneva this week to decide on Gulf War reparations for Kuwait could highlight further dissension in the Security Council.
United Nations, 27 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Revived air contacts with Baghdad and a dispute over Kuwait's Gulf War reparations are posing new challenges to the 10-year-old UN sanctions program against Iraq.
The main challenges are coming from within the UN Security Council, which is charged with enforcing the sanctions regime aimed at pressing Iraq to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction.
Russia and France have landed planes at Baghdad airport recently and have signaled they plan to send more. The purpose, they say, is humanitarian.
Russia is also considering acting to delay a decision on how much money Kuwait will get from Iraq in reparations for oil that was destroyed by Iraqi forces.
That figure could be reduced as part of negotiations taking place among representatives of the five Security Council powers -- the United States, Britain, Russia, France, and China -- in New York.
Russia, France and China with growing frequency are voicing their opposition to the position of the United States and Britain, which is that sanctions must be rigorously applied to ensure Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein complies with weapons inspections.
Some observers say it is also clear Russia and France are eager to resume economic contacts with Iraq.
This view is shared by Richard Murphy, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for near eastern and south Asian affairs. Murphy spoke recently with RFE/RL:
"There's real erosion underway, nibbling at the edges. It doesn't mean anybody in any responsible position either in Europe or Asia wants to see [Saddam] get military equipment, but they want to start dealing, they want to start selling to Iraq."
Iraq is allowed to earn revenue to pay for humanitarian goods through the unlimited sale of oil. Those earnings have soared with the rise in world oil prices, but the Iraqi government has protested at the limits imposed on its use of the money.
Thirty percent of the oil-for-food revenue goes to the Gulf War compensation fund.
That issue is being discussed in Geneva this week by the Governing Council of the UN Compensation Commission, or UNCC, which is composed of the same members as the Security Council. Independent arbitrators recommended paying Kuwait about $16 billion for the claim.
For the moment, diplomats in New York say discussions are focusing on reaching a consensus among the five powers on awarding Kuwait's latest claim. If that consensus cannot be reached, Britain and the United States are said to be confident they have enough votes if the decision comes down to a ballot among the 15 members.
The lack of unity shown by the Security Council appears to have given Saddam Hussein extra resolve in defying new weapons inspections. A new inspection team is ready to resume monitoring in Iraq after a two-year delay, but Iraq refuses to let it visit.
A former UN weapons inspector, Richard Butler, told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday (Tuesday) that the Security Council was at fault for this stalemate. He urged the United States to pressure Russia to end its support of Iraq on the Council.
"The administration must make clear to Russia that its newly embarked upon policy -- redolent of the Cold War period of client-statism -- its newly embarked upon policy of giving support and comfort to regimes such as the Saddam regime is simply
Murphy, of the Council on Foreign Relations, says the United States may have been too hard-line on its Iraqi policy, failing to provide Saddam with any incentive to cooperate with UN inspections.
The result, he says, has been a strengthened Saddam who is content to consolidate his power and blame the suffering of his people on the United States and others. Murphy says U.S. policy is not likely to change before this November's presidential elections.
"[Saddam's] happier with what he's got in terms of sanctions today than with any slight changes on the margins. If he could get rid of everything -- fine. That's obviously preferred, but I don't think there's any mood in Washington given our political calendar and the conviction that he remains as [Secretary of State Madeleine] Albright has said 'in a box.'"
Albright has repeatedly said Saddam can lift the weight of sanctions by signaling he will cooperate with weapons inspections. That message was repeated by French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine in his meeting earlier this month with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. But the recent French decision to resume air contacts with Iraq is adding to an impression that any inspections are very far off.