UN's Weary Squeeze on Iraq Weapons Monitoring and Sanctions Tug of War for Security Council,with No Iraqi Cooperation in Sight

Article excerpt

At first, Security Council members did not know what they should do after the bombings in Iraq. Now a month later, their problem is that they have too many ideas.

With proposals from Canada, France, Russia, and the United States on the table, the 15-member body will tackle the deep divisions among them.

France set the talks in motion Jan. 13 by contending that the oil embargo should be lifted. "This embargo has no more raison d'tre. It hurts the people of Iraq," said a French position paper distributed at the United Nations last week. Seeking to undercut France's moral argument against sanctions, Washington quickly suggested remedies to humanitarian concerns in a country hard hit by eight-year-old sanctions. The US said Iraq should be allowed to sell as much oil as necessary, but only to buy food, medicine, and other basic needs. Mindful of popular support for Saddam Hussein in the Middle East, acting US Ambassador Peter Burleigh stressed that oil-for-food funds could be used for the hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca expected of every able Muslim at least once in a lifetime. Expanded oil-for-food In other words, the US would allow only an expanded version of the oil-for-food program instituted in December 1996 in which Iraq has been permitted to sell $5.2 billion in crude oil every six months. Yet in the program's fourth phase, which ended in November, Iraq raised only $3 billion because of low world prices as well as its dilapidated oil-producing machinery. The US recommended speeding approval of Baghdad's applications for spare parts, conceding that this may not fully address humanitarian concerns. Washington therefore floated the idea of encouraging government and private organi- zation donations as well as allowing Iraq to borrow funds from frozen accounts. French, Russian, and Chinese diplomats, however, counter that this does not go far enough. One diplomat calls the US proposal a public- relations ploy that would hardly elevate funds. Meanwhile, US officials see the push for a complete lifting of the oil embargo as a scheme to allow French and Russian companies to develop Iraq's potentially lucrative oil industry. The split between the two sides grows even deeper on weapons inspections. France, arguing that the Security Council needs Iraq's cooperation in order to secure the weapons inspectors' return, suggests that the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) be replaced by a commission that would monitor Iraq and focus on preventing Saddam from developing weapons of mass destruction rather than trying to eliminate and account for existing stocks. "In its present shape UNSCOM cannot come back to Iraq," says Alain Dejammet, French representative to the UN. "What we are trying to do is to imagine a situation in which UNSCOM can come back to Iraq." More contention over inspections But the US opposes any dilution of UNSCOM's role and publicly supports intrusive inspections. …