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Iraq: Russia Rejects New Sanctions Plan As Too Restrictive

Iraq's strongest supporter in the United Nations Security Council -- Russia -- has rejected a joint British-U.S. proposal aimed at easing the flow of civilian goods into Iraq. Russia is proposing its own resolution, which calls for the indefinite suspension of sanctions once arms inspectors are allowed back into Iraq. But RFE/RL UN correspondent Robert McMahon says Russia's resolution is also destined to fail in the Security Council in favor of simply leaving things as they are -- although all sides agree change is necessary. Here is his report.

United Nations, 27 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russia has come out in strong opposition to a British-U.S. initiative designed to focus future sanctions against Iraq on military goods. Russia says the new approach is still too restrictive.

Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Sergei Lavrov, began a Security Council debate on 26 June on the situation in Iraq by sharply criticizing the British-U.S. proposal. The draft has been under negotiation by council experts for more than a month.

Lavrov said the proposed list of items that would be subject to review for possible military uses shows the British-U.S. plan aims to tighten, rather than loosen, sanctions on Iraq.

"The negative consequence of the draft resolution is that it is leading the Security Council away from the real solution of Iraqi problems and toward the freezing of the present situation -- meaning the continuation of sanctions against Iraq -- which creates unacceptable consequences for the people and the economy of Iraq in the absence of any progress in the disarmament area."

Before yesterday's debate, Russia circulated a draft resolution of its own that called for the indefinite lifting of sanctions once UN arms inspectors have returned to Iraq. It also proposes that funds held in a UN-controlled escrow account be returned to the Iraqi government within 60 days of the suspension of sanctions.

Britain and the United States rejected the Russian proposal. Britain's ambassador to the UN, Jeremy Greenstock, later called it "a disturbing text."

Inside the council chamber, Greenstock and the acting U.S. ambassador to the UN, James Cunningham, responded sharply to Lavrov's comments. Britain and the United States have been the strongest backers of a hard-line policy toward Iraq, but their proposal now under discussion calls for a widespread easing of controls on many civilian goods currently blocked by provisions of the UN's oil-for-food program.

Cunningham stressed that the new proposal would be providing Iraq with its best opportunity to develop its economy under UN sanctions. The government in Baghdad prefers the current humanitarian program, he said, because it has been able to manipulate the oil revenues coming into the country both legally and illegally.

"It is the height of irony that at the very moment my government and others are prepared to undertake this radical shift of direction, we find ourselves under attack by others who have long pressed for change to the system. These states, like the government of Iraq, seek to perpetuate the status quo, instead of looking ahead."

British Ambassador Greenstock, referring to Russia, said council members should carefully examine their reasons for failing to support a mechanism designed to increase the flow of civilian goods. He reiterated Britain's deep suspicions about Iraq's motives in objecting to a softer sanctions regime.

"Iraq is opposing these changes because it wishes to freeze the work of the council and escape from its obligations. It has calculated that time and international inertia will be on its side. The council is, in that respect, being challenged."

The Security Council is bound by resolution 1284, adopted in December 1999, which says that sanctions can only be suspended if arms inspectors certify that Iraq has fully cooperated with them for 120 days and made progress on disarmament.

But Russia, China, and France abstained on the vote for the resolution, which has led Iraq to try to exploit any weakening in the sanctions regime.

Iraq has refused to cooperate with the new arms inspection commission created by the resolution -- known as UNMOVIC. It has also refused to cooperate with a UN special representative seeking to resolve the issues of missing Kuwaitis and Kuwaiti property, another provision of resolution 1284.

The latest Security Council dispute is likely to block any immediate change in the UN's oil-for-food program, which was extended by one month to 3 July while the new proposal was discussed. Diplomats say another extension in the existing program is expected, but it is unclear whether it will be for six months, as Iraq has requested.

Most council members yesterday did express support for the British-U.S. proposal, stressing the need to provide Iraqis with the means to rebuild their economy.

Ambassador Ole Peter Korby of Norway, who is chairman of the council's sanctions committee, called the current system flawed and cumbersome. He said the British-U.S. proposal gave the council an opportunity to radically improve the flow of goods into Iraq and replace a time-consuming and restrictive system.

"Limiting the scope of control by the sanctions committee to potentially sensitive items, by leaving all other items aside, is in our view plain common sense."

Norway and France were among the council states critical of the $3.2 billion in contracts with Iraq placed on hold, mostly by the United States and Britain. But Norway's Korby also criticized the Iraqi government for failing to spend more than $2 billion in available funds in the UN escrow account for the purchase of humanitarian supplies.

The Security Council debate on Iraq is scheduled to continue tomorrow with 20 more representatives from non-council members set to speak. Among them will be an undersecretary of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, Riyadh al-Qaisi, due to arrive in New York today.

Also due to speak are Iraq's neighbors Syria and Turkey, whose cooperation would be crucial to the success of the proposed British-U.S. sanctions plan. Diplomats said no vote is expected to be taken tomorrow.