FOR five years, Evergreen Helicopters Inc. has been flying
United Nations peacekeepers around some of the world's hot spots.
Now the McMinnville, Ore.-based company is at the center of a
dispute between Washington and the UN over policy toward Iraq.
The big question is who's in charge: the UN or Saddam Hussein?
US officials say the UN is letting the Iraqi leader dictate the
operational terms for a UN monitoring force. The UN, which
maintains the force to watch for new Iraqi military threats against
Kuwait, denies the charge. The UN troops were deployed along the
Iraq-Kuwait border after the 1991 Gulf war.
Keeping Saddam bottled up militarily, politically, and
economically is a key US foreign policy goal. But other major
powers, including France and Russia, have called for the UN to ease
Iraq's international isolation. Saddam's success in influencing UN
decisions could undermine US's goal.
The US-UN row began earlier this month when the UN decided to
terminate Evergreen's contract to provide helicopter services to
the UN Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM). The two-year, $4
million contract began Dec. 1. The UN says it has no choice but to
cancel it because Iraq has refused to renew the visas of the two
Evergreen pilots flying for UNIKOM. Their visas expire on June 30.
"Iraq has turned down the UN request to reconsider this
decision," says Yasuhiro Ueki, a UN spokesman. "Evergreen will thus
be unable to continue to provide helicopter transport and the UN is
now trying to make other arrangements." Mr. Ueki says Evergreen's
contract to transport UNIKOM officers on both sides of the
Iraq-Kuwait border requires it to obtain Iraqi visas for its pilots.
But US officials and Evergreen say the visas are not needed. UN
rules and resolutions and Iraq's original acceptance of UNIKOM's
mission give UN personnel unrestricted access to Iraqi territory.
Evergreen says it obtained the pilots' existing visas simply to
accommodate Iraq and that its UN contract does not specifically
Beyond the legal tangle, US officials say Evergreen's contract
cancellation indicates the UN is acquiescing to Iraqi harassment
of a US firm in exchange for good relations with Saddam.
"The United Nations should not put itself in a situation in
which Iraq can dictate the terms of its presence," says a senior US
official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The UN force is
there to monitor Iraqi action. You don't normally ask the person
you are watching to set the rules of the game. …