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U.N. Welcomes Iraq's Kuwait Stance, Is Split on Curbs

November 17, 1994|STANLEY MEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UNITED NATIONS — The Security Council on Wednesday welcomed Iraq's recognition of Kuwait after a protracted debate that revealed the near-total isolation of the United States on the issue of lifting sanctions.

In a unanimously approved declaration read by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright, president for the month of November, the council said it "considers this decision by Iraq to be a significant step in the direction towards implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions."

Until a compromise was finally reached, the United States, supported only by Britain, found itself opposed by the 13 other members of the council on the wording of the declaration that amounted to the United Nations' official acknowledgment of Iraq's renunciation of its claims to a country it invaded in 1990, leading to the Persian Gulf War.

On the surface, the debate sounded like a squabble over quibbles; a U.S. official derided it as an argument over "semicolons and colons."

But the debate reflected deep divisions within the Security Council, and it is now clear that there is very little support for the Clinton Administration's insistence that all sanctions remain in place on Iraq until it complies with a host of Security Council resolutions. The prevailing view appears to be that if Iraq allows a system of permanent monitoring for arms violations on its soil, then the council should reward Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in six months or so with at least a partial lifting of the ban on its sale of oil.

Some ambassadors also displayed annoyance over a packet of aerial photographs that Albright passed around on Monday as evidence that Hussein was lavishing more than $1 billion on the restoration and construction of government palaces and lavish residences while bemoaning the effects of the international economic sanctions.

"The buildings were wasteful," one Security Council ambassador said, "but they were irrelevant to the question of sanctions. If sanctions were related to the construction of lavish buildings, there would be a lot of countries in that region under sanctions. I think that showing the photos was an act of desperation."

According to diplomatic sources, the problem arose Tuesday when Albright proposed what one ambassador called a "minimalist" declaration welcoming the arrival of official documents from Iraq recognizing the independence of Kuwait. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tarik Aziz had handed the papers to Albright in a brief, cold meeting the day before.

In the key phrase of the Albright proposal, the Security Council would say that it considered the recognition of Kuwait "a step in the direction towards implementation" of the resolutions.

Chinese Ambassador Li Zhaoxing, who usually takes a passive role on the council, surprised the Americans by proposing that the key phrase in the declaration state instead that the council regarded the recognition as "an important step in the right direction towards implementation" of the resolutions, another Security Council ambassador recounted.

Thirteen ambassadors accepted the Chinese proposal but Albright, supported by British Ambassador David Hannay, refused it. This deadlock was not broken until Wednesday morning, when Hannay proposed compromise wording that would have the declaration describe the recognition as "a significant step in the direction towards implementation." All 15 agreed, and the Security Council issued the declaration.

But the unanimous declaration hid a great divide.

"There is a growing feeling in the council," one of the ambassadors said, "that since the Iraqis are cooperating . . . they have to be somehow rewarded."

The Americans argue that the United Nations must not lift the oil sanctions until it is sure of Hussein's "peaceful intentions"; otherwise he cannot be trusted to allow monitoring in the future.

The U.S. government says, moreover, that it cannot be sure of Hussein's good intentions until he complies with all the demands of all the resolutions. These include the return of property stolen from Kuwait, a halt to his persecution of minorities, an accounting of all Kuwaiti prisoners, a halt to terrorism and the payment of compensation to all those injured, even indirectly, by the invasion.

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