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RESPONSE TO TERROR | ARMS PROLIFERATION

U.N. Approves Overhaul of Iraqi Trade Sanctions

November 30, 2001|WILLIAM ORME | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council agreed unanimously Thursday to adopt new American-backed trade sanctions on Iraq next June after a final six-month extension of the current system of controls.

Under the "smart" sanctions to come next year, the council will for the first time impose specific constraints on hundreds of import items with possible military applications, from X-ray machines and telecommunications software to hydrophones and night-vision goggles. Appended to Thursday's resolution was an itemized nine-page proposal for this "goods review list," which is to be adopted as United Nations policy by May, after further consultations with council members.

Though Iraq remained defiant, U.S. officials portrayed the 15-0 vote as a further closing of world ranks against President Saddam Hussein's regime.

"This was a step forward and another example of strong unity and consensus in the Security Council," said John D. Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. "This should send a signal to Iraq that we are determined to press forward with this program."

But the present U.N. sanctions regime, which was to expire today, will remain intact through the end of May, despite Bush administration hopes to have it replaced immediately by the new system. The current sanctions include an "oil for food" program, under which the U.N. collects Iraq's petroleum revenue and controls its import spending. The world body first imposed sanctions on Iraq in 1990, after the country invaded neighboring Kuwait. Critics have charged that the current broad program creates hardships for average Iraqis.

Implementation of the new plan could prove problematic, experts caution, because Security Council members may have disputes about--and commercial stakes in--the sale of various merchandise. And most diplomats will require the help of experts during the expected debates over such technically sophisticated subjects as phased-array antennas and asymmetric encryption algorithms.

But the proposed changes will sharpen and streamline the sanctions regime, proponents say, by keeping out hundreds of products with potential military applications while expediting shipments of food, medicine and other essentials. Russian diplomats, who had until recently blocked the new plan, stressed Thursday that the resolution's intent is to "improve the humanitarian situation in Iraq."

But Iraq, like the Bush administration, does not view the new resolution as a humanitarian gesture. Iraqi diplomats in the U.S. adamantly opposed the change, while officials in Baghdad rebuffed President Bush's demands that they allow international weapons inspectors into their country and vowed to respond in kind to any U.S. military action.

In recent weeks, Washington had tried to secure support for the introduction of the new sanctions by April. In a compromise hammered out here Tuesday, Russia won the six-month extension of the current system, diplomats said.

Also at Moscow's insistence, a paragraph was added to the resolution calling for "clarification" of the 1999 resolution that imposed the current sanctions. The Russians had long urged the Security Council to set more precise conditions and a timetable for the lifting of penalties if Iraq complied with U.N. demands.

"The criteria for suspension and lifting must be specific and must be unambiguous," Sergei V. Lavrov, the Russian ambassador to the U.N., said Thursday after the vote.

Without clear incentives and guidelines, the Russians contend, the sanctions will fail to persuade the Persian Gulf nation to open its doors to inspectors.

Yet even if Iraq were to suddenly buckle to world pressure and let in the inspectors, it would take at least six months to evaluate whether Hussein's regime has stopped trying to secretly develop weapons of mass destruction, say the U.N. experts who would be dispatched there.

"We are not going to drag our heels, but this takes time," said Hans Blix, director of the U.N.'s verification and inspection unit.

Technically, the products on the new review list would not be banned outright, and Iraq could argue for the legitimacy of its import requests.

"These are supposed to be goods under review, not goods under a ban," said a U.N. official who requested anonymity. The arms embargo that has been in place against Iran for the past decade already rules out all imports of weapons and military equipment, the official noted.

But U.S. officials have made it clear they expect most requests for goods on the list to be denied as long as Iraq refuses entry to inspection teams that could verify whether the imports were put to their authorized use.

An immediate toughening of the Iraq sanctions system would have met resistance from Turkey, Jordan and other U.S. allies in the region that are supporting the American-led campaign against Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorism network.

In a related development, the British ambassador to the U.S. said in Los Angeles on Thursday that the American-led coalition battling terrorism in Afghanistan has not yet started in-depth discussions about expanding the conflict to other countries, including Iraq, that might be harboring terrorists.

"When we're done with Afghanistan, and I'm not quite sure how you define that, then we need to sit down and discuss among ourselves what else needs to be done to deal with Al Qaeda," said Christopher Meyer during a lunch with Times editors and reporters. "In reality, we haven't reached that stage yet."

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Times staff writer Matea Gold in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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