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Security Council Expected to Tighten Controls on Iraq

U.N.: Russia and other permanent members agree to prohibit the country from buying items that could be used to develop weapons.

November 28, 2001|WILLIAM ORME | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UNITED NATIONS — With new support from Russia, the Security Council agreed in principle Tuesday to a U.S. plan for stricter controls on Iraq's imports that would go into effect next summer, diplomats said.

Iraq spoke out against Washington's push to change the sanctions system, and vowed not to allow U.N. weapons inspectors back into the country.

President Bush for the first time Monday had explicitly linked the Iraq inspections issue to the broader U.S. campaign against terrorism, warning that Iraq would face unspecified reprisals if it continued to refuse entry to arms inspection teams.

"The president has made it quite clear that we are watching Iraq carefully," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Tuesday in Washington.

"We believe Iraq has to comply with its international obligations, including the obligation to let inspectors back in," Boucher said. "We believe that Iraq's attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction are a threat to its neighbors, as well as to the broader world. We are concerned about Iraq's support for terrorism."

Detailed List Proposed

Officials said the key proposed change is that the new, so-called smart sanctions would establish a detailed list of items that Iraq would be prohibited from buying because of their possible use in clandestine weapons programs.

The present sanctions divert Iraqi oil money to a special account from which some funds are withdrawn for food and other goods. There is a lengthy catalog of items that Iraq is entitled to import, forcing U.N. monitors to wrangle with the Iraqis, and one another, over virtually every item that is not specifically authorized.

Both the United States and Iraq regard the new sanctions system as tougher. American officials contend that adoption of stricter sanctions would significantly limit Iraq's ability to develop biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.

But without some drastic increase in U.S. pressure against Saddam Hussein's regime, there appeared to be little immediate likelihood of a return of the U.N. inspectors who left Baghdad hours before American and British bombing raids there in December 1998.

Diplomats said the Security Council is expected to approve a resolution Thursday that would continue current economic sanctions against Iraq for another six months. The present sanctions had been slated to expire Friday.

The Bush administration had once hoped to substitute its revised system immediately after the old sanctions ended, but Russia raised strong objections to the plan in the Security Council.

On Tuesday, however, in what American diplomats characterized as a significant victory, Russia agreed in a closed-door session of the council's permanent members to Washington's proposed revamping of the sanctions system before the next scheduled renewal six months from now.

As approved Tuesday by all five permanent members, the expected resolution by the full 15-member Security Council on Thursday will commit the U.N. to adopting the new Washington-backed system by June, diplomats said.

Russia rejected the plan when it was first proposed by the U.S. and Britain in May, arguing instead for an end to sanctions that many European and Arab opinion leaders were then portraying as both ineffective and inhumane.

After further phone negotiations Monday between Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Russian Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov, the Russians have agreed to the basic outlines of the U.S. plan, diplomats said.

"We are standing the system on its head," a U.S. official said.

Iraq has made it clear that it much prefers to keep the current system, a stance that U.S. diplomats say vindicates their proposed change.

"We would like to have simply a kind of technical rollover, without adding anything to it," Mohammed Douri, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, said as he awaited news of the Security Council's deliberations Tuesday. "We know that the U.S. favors smart sanctions, which we are opposing always."

American officials had been unusually candid about their frustration with Russia's veto threat against a plan that was backed not just by Britain but also by China and France, which have in the past voiced reservations about U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq and other countries.

"All Security Council members have agreed on the need to change the status quo by refocusing the controls on weapons and items used to produce weapons of mass destruction, while allowing a smoother flow of strictly civilian goods," Boucher said as the permanent members deliberated behind closed doors Tuesday.

'Oil-for-Food' Fund Uses

Since the current "oil-for-food" program was adopted by the U.N. five years ago, the Iraqi sanctions fund has received $39 billion in oil earnings and paid out $30 billion for "humanitarian" and other imports, from staple foods to spare parts for oil rigs.

The fund also provided billions of dollars for punitive settlements against Iraq for financial damage caused by its 1991 invasion of Kuwait.

But under the time-consuming and contentious system of item-by-item screening, U.N. overseers are now withholding permits for nearly 1,500 import contracts totaling $4.2 billion, an amount criticized as "excessive" by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The draft resolution approved by the five permanent members Tuesday calls for a "goods review list" to be prepared by June 1, when the next sanctions extension will expire.

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