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UN: Sanctions Overhaul Seeks To Tighten Focus On Military Goods Headed To Iraq

United Nations, 15 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The UN Security Council has voted unanimously to overhaul its sanctions regime against Iraq.

The resolution passed yesterday renews for six months the oil-for-food program, which provides an exception to UN sanctions so Iraq can use oil proceeds for humanitarian goods. The resolution also eliminates most restrictions on civilians goods entering Iraq while tightening the council's focus on items with potential military use.

The council has identified items with military and civilian applications that will now automatically come under evaluation by UN experts. The new "dual-use" list is expected to help bypass the scrutiny previously applied to nearly all goods entering Iraq. The time-consuming process was criticized for blocking or delaying even civilian goods.

The lone Arab member of the council, Syria, voted for the resolution despite voicing concern over the impact of the sanctions on the people of Iraq.

The U.S. ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, told reporters after the vote that the new sanctions program, which takes effect on 30 May, strengthens arms controls on Iraq. "By simplifying this export-control regime and focusing it more on products and devices that could contribute to a weapons of mass destruction program, I think the regime has been made much more effective."

Negroponte also dismissed some criticism that the previous program failed the Iraqi people because of excessive holds placed on contracts, mainly by the United States. "The principle obstacle has been the refusal of the Iraqi regime to spend its own resources for the importation of those items but to the extent there might have been such an argument in the past, it will have even less strength now because humanitarian goods will be allowed in virtually automatically."

The changes to the sanctions program approved today are a revised version of the "smart sanctions" proposal originally made nearly one year ago by the United States and Britain. That proposal had sought to place controls on Iraq's borders but that idea was dropped following protests by Iraq's neighbors.

The new resolution followed intense negotiations by Russian and U.S. officials over the composition of the "goods-review list." As part of the understanding reached by the two sides, U.S. officials agreed to consider a comprehensive settlement of the Iraqi sanctions issue, including a clarification of the process of suspending sanctions.

Russia's ambassador to the UN, Sergei Lavrov, in comments after yesterday's vote, said there was now a need to consider the overall issue of Iraqi sanctions. "The resolution or any other modification to the humanitarian program which might be agreed in the future would not be able to solve any of the problems of the Iraqi economy and it is only through the lifting of sanctions that Iraq could revive its economy and therefore there is a need for a comprehensive solution."

Lavrov stressed that Russia, Iraq's main ally on the Security Council, saw yesterday's resolution as a positive step, despite Iraqi objections. "This is about simplifying the humanitarian program and making it more efficient and therefore we are satisfied."

The Security Council imposed sanctions on Iraq in August 1990 after Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait. In 1996, the council allowed Iraq to sell oil to buy food, medicines and other supplies to ease the sanctions impact on Iraqi civilians. Council resolutions say the sanctions can only be lifted after UN monitors determine that Iraq has eliminated its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.