The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have agreed to extend the UN's humanitarian program to Iraq for one month while they review a proposal to overhaul the way sanctions are enforced against Baghdad. The extension, to be formally voted on today (1 June), allows time to decide on changes aimed at tightening controls on military goods. Iraq objects to the changes and has threatened to cut off oil exports if the extension is approved. RFE/RL's UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.
United Nations, 1 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A new plan that seeks to tighten sanctions around the Iraqi leadership while easing the plight of civilians has received an important boost in the UN Security Council.
Iraq rejects the new plan and has been pressing for the existing humanitarian oil-for-food program to be renewed for another six months.
The permanent five members of the council -- all of whom hold veto power -- agreed late yesterday (31 May) to extend the UN's current program by one month, while details of the new sanctions plan are worked out. The 15-member council has to vote on an extension of the oil-for-food program by midnight on 3 June.
Britain and the United States, the plan's chief promoters, and Iraq's traditional supporters on the council -- France, China, and Russia -- agreed yesterday to try to work out a new sanctions arrangement within five weeks (by 4 July). The agreement marked a rare note of consensus among the council's permanent five members on the sanctions issue.
Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, Jeremy Greenstock, called it a "good day for the council."
"This was a very good development today, in the council coming together to set out the basis upon which it wishes to adapt its policy on sanctions on Iraq, in a way which, I think, will help the program help the humanitarian situation in Iraq and help the council's security interest."
Earlier, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohamed Al-Douri, told reporters outside the council chamber that any resolution to extend the current program by one month would not be recognized by Iraq. He said the country would not engage in any new contracts to sell oil under such a resolution.
"Iraq will not conclude any oil contract based on it and this resolution for us will be just another dead resolution."
Iraq is seeking the continuation of the current program, under which the country is allowed to sell unlimited amounts of oil and use the revenues to purchase humanitarian goods.
Baghdad has repeatedly sought the lifting of sanctions, saying they are unjustified because it no longer possesses weapons of mass destruction. But it has benefited in recent months by increased smuggling and the sale of oil to neighbors, outside of UN controls.
The existing UN sanctions program has also been criticized by a growing number of nations as overly severe on Iraqi civilians because of delays in contracts seen as having potential military applications.
The new proposal eases the controls on many civilian goods while providing a detailed list of items considered to have both military and civilian uses and therefore be subject to review. These items range from telecommunications equipment to heavy trucks.
U.S. and British (unnamed) diplomats say that under the new plan, Iraqi officials would no longer be able to blame the suffering of Iraqi civilians on the United States and Britain. Those two countries have traditionally applied the most holds on contracts for Iraqi goods.
The diplomats also say the new sanctions plan puts the focus back on the original objective of the sanctions program -- to prevent Iraq from maintaining or building weapons of mass destruction.
The acting United States ambassador to the United Nations, James Cunningham, yesterday questioned the Iraqi threats in response to the new plan.
"The changes that we are proposing are to free up the civilian economy and to improve the flow of goods into Iraq. And so it seems somewhat strange that the Iraqis are reacting to something that it seems to us they should be supporting by threatening to cut off oil."
The new proposal would also involve new ways of stopping the smuggling of Iraqi oil outside UN supervision. Council members have acknowledged that if smuggling is to be ended, Iraq's neighbors -- notably, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey -- would have to be compensated. The council has allowed the three to purchase Iraqi oil outside of the oil-for-food program. Those states are seen as crucial to ending smuggling that has earned the Iraqi government tens of millions of dollars.
Earlier yesterday, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters that the focus during the next few weeks will be on reaching full agreement on the list of items that would require review under a new sanctions policy.
"Now, there is a lot of detail work that has to be done. There are detailed lists of items that need to be approved. There are procedures that have to be put in place. There's what you might call auxiliary questions that have to be considered -- like how do you stop smuggling, how do you handle money, what if Iraq retaliates, how do you make sure there's no economic loss to states that might implement the policy. Those questions will indeed be looked at, especially the lists, which require a lot of detail work by experts."
Nonpermanent members of the council have generally welcomed the new proposal as a way of fostering economic development in Iraq.
An official with the mission of a new council member, Ireland -- speaking on condition of anonymity -- told RFE/RL this week that Irish officials would like to see the Iraqi economy returning to what he described as "normal a state as possible." The official said Ireland's concern is that any new review list of humanitarian goods should not be used as a way to block infrastructure development in Iraq.