Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Diplomats at United Nations Spar over Iraq, Libya, Western Sahara and Israeli-Occupied Territories

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Diplomats at United Nations Spar over Iraq, Libya, Western Sahara and Israeli-Occupied Territories

Article excerpt

Diplomats at United Nations Spar Over Iraq, Libya, Western Sahara and Israeli-Occupied Territories

The summer months at the U.N. have been a combination of shadowboxing and wielding of symbols in the Middle East. But as in a medieval tournament, the symbols are often very important, revealing shifts of policy and allegiance.

For example, without much fanfare, there has been a shift in U.S. policy toward Iraq. In June the U.S. delegation to the U.N. implicitly agreed that it would not veto the lifting of U.N. sanctions on Iraq if Baghdad actually complied with U.N. Resolution 687 strictures on disarmament and the return of Kuwaiti property and missing people. Previously, under both Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, the U.S. had implied that the sanctions would last for at least as long as Iraqi President Saddam Hussain's grip on power.

The shift came in the form of U.S. support for the Anglo-Dutch resolution that is working its way very slowly through the Security Council. The resolution was based on a Brazilian initiative in January to set up working groups on sanctions, disarmament, and the Kuwaiti prisoners and property in Iraq. The draft now has eight countries supporting it, but still faces opposition from the French, Russians and Chinese.

Basically, the resolution envisages a progressive relaxation of sanctions after the Iraqis have demonstrated cooperation with a new arms inspection and monitoring body, UNCIM, that would be set up to replace UNSCOM.

The draft mandates UNCIM to produce a list of "key remaining tasks" for Iraq to finish within 90 days after UNCIM begins work in the country. After 120 days of cooperation, export sanctions on Iraqi products would be suspended for renewable periods of 120 days, dependent on Iraqi cooperation with the arms inspections.

It also promises measures to help Baghdad sell more oil, asking the secretary-general to draw up plans that would involve using foreign oil companies to boost production. However, in some ways it makes controls on the regime even stronger than now, by, for example, taking the revenues from oil sales to Turkey and putting them into an escrow account.

In contrast, the Russians, Chinese and the French want sanctions lifted, in return for which the Iraqis would cooperate on arms monitoring. Even they, however, admit to worry about Saddam Hussain's ability to revive Iraq's proven expertise in chemical and biological warfare.

At present, Iraq shows little interest in taking up the Dutch and British often This prompts British diplomats to accuse the Iraqis of "looking a gift horse in the mouth," by not taking up the offer before someone else takes it off the table.

The acting U.S. ambassador to the U.N. is Peter Burleigh, a well-liked and respected career diplomat. The arrival of Richard Holbrooke, whose appointment, at this writing, still is being held up in the Senate, may make a difference in that he clearly has political ambitions that would not necessarily be furthered by concessions to Baghdad.

British policy, too, is shifting. Once slavishly tied to the U.S. on almost everything except the Palestine issue, the Labor government clearly is staking out its own distinctive positions.

The resolve of British Prime Minister Tony Blair over Kosovo has given the U.K. more leverage for its other policies, which began earlier. Perhaps the first sign was the compromise over sanctions on Libya resulting from the explosion of Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie, in which London pulled over the American position.

This month's resumption of British relations with Iran showed a similar shift. Now, British diplomats do not conceal their concern at the humanitarian damage caused by sanctions on Iraq. Hence their eagerness to find a way out that satisfies the other objective of stopping Iraqi rearmament.

The abject failure of the present policy to shift Saddam Hussain and the absence of UNSCOM inspectors from Iraq since last year show that a new policy is needed, quite apart from any humanitarian considerations. …

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