Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Big Powers Arm-Wrestle over Iraqi Sanctions

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Big Powers Arm-Wrestle over Iraqi Sanctions

Article excerpt

ABANDONING all pretense about a united front to confront Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the world's great powers are bitterly divided over just how to contain his belligerence.

Diplomatically, the conflict has been playing out at the United Nations Security Council, where the five permanent members are struggling over just how long to maintain an economic blockade on Iraq. They are also weighing other options to further isolate the rogue country. Behind the scenes, pro-sanctions American and British negotiators team up against their Chinese, French, and Russian counterparts, who want the restrictions lifted.

The fight is manifested most practically in the marketplace, where cash-strapped Iraqis attract foreign suppliers with promises of big payments and lucrative contracts in the future. Cultivating those commercial ties, the anti-sanctions group sees billions of dollars in business deals and strategic access to the plentiful oil fields in Iraq.

"It's just as crass as it appears to be," says James Placke, an oil specialist and Washington-based director of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, in Cambridge, Mass. "Iraq could be a major player in the international oil industry and they are positioning themselves to take advantage of that potential."

Baghdad has been a revolving door for visits from Chinese, French, and Russian dignitaries, among others, who are anxious to strike deals with oil, military, and other ministry officials. French firms early

As early as mid-1991, just months after the Gulf war ended, French energy firms - Elf Aquitaine and Total SA - sent emissaries to Baghdad for talks on developing two giant oil fields in southern Iraq. Among those following in their tracks: A French parliamentary delegation visited Iraq to scope out the potential for farm exports, and telecommunications companies have negotiated agreements.

Late last August, Iraq's Foreign Minister, Muhammed Said al-Sahhaf, met in Beijing with Chinese officials to further bilateral industrial and trade ties. China's deputy foreign minister, Wang Changyi, pledged that "China would do its utmost to end this unfair blockade" and underscored his "country's desire to promote and enhance its {commercial} relations with Iraq.

In September, Iraq and Russia signed a $10-billion bilateral cooperation agreement in the oil and industrial sectors. Russian Minister of Foreign Economic Relations Oleg Davydov made a public push to lift sanctions.

While these high-profile meetings always end with pronouncements about the need to end Iraqi suffering under the embargo, many international suppliers have already transferred goods in violation of UN sanctions. …

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