Surprise French offer on Iraqi sanctions
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|Wed, 04-23-2003 - 3:07pm|
U.S. balks at compromise; U.N. meeting shows rifts remain
Wednesday, April 23, 2003
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER NEWS SERVICES
UNITED NATIONS -- After staunchly opposing the U.S.-led war against Saddam Hussein, France made a surprise proposal yesterday to meet the United States halfway by calling for the immediate suspension of crippling economic sanctions on Iraq.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte stuck by President Bush's demand that because of "the dramatically changed circumstances within Iraq," sanctions should be lifted entirely -- not just suspended.
"We now need to work with France and other countries to see how best that can be achieved and how quickly."
Still, the first Security Council meeting on the future of post-Saddam Iraq indicated that deep divisions remain over who should disarm the country and how sanctions should be lifted.
In Washington, meanwhile, President Bush told a small group of business reporters he has no plans for any more military conflicts. In response to a question about the war on terror, the president said, "I have no specific operation in mind at this point in time."
The French proposal appeared to take the Russians and Germans, their closest allies in opposing the war, off guard. Neither embraced it, and both strongly supported the return of U.N. weapons inspectors to verify Iraq's disarmament before sanctions are lifted -- which the United States opposes.
"We should really deal with the situation in Iraq thinking always about the situation of Iraqi people," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said yesterday in the Turkish capital, Ankara.
France's U.N. ambassador, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, also said it was time for the Security Council "to take into account the new realities on the ground" and adopt "a very pragmatic approach" to dealing with Iraq.
"I have proposed that the decision should be taken to immediately suspend the civilian sanctions," he told reporters.
But De La Sabliere added that the U.N. oil-for-food program, which collects Iraq's oil revenue, should be kept under U.N. control for the time being.
The move would thwart what is believed to be the Bush administration's bid to cut off the oil-for-food contracts that have benefited France and Russia, both of whom opposed the U.S.-led war to topple Saddam.
Unless sanctions are lifted or suspended, the bulk of Iraq's oil revenue will continue to be funneled through the United Nations. This could hinder U.S. plans to use the money to pay for much of Iraq's reconstruction, and also prevent the United States from making any oil sales contracts, which many Europeans fear will go only to U.S. oil companies.
The proposal would suspend the U.N. ban on trade and investment in Iraq along with a flight ban while leaving a 12-year-old arms embargo in place. But it wasn't clear how a suspension could be implemented without an Iraqi government in place.
The Security Council imposed sanctions after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, and modified them in 1996 with an oil-for-food program that allowed Iraq to sell unlimited quantities of oil to pay for humanitarian goods and reparations for the first Gulf War.
The program had been feeding at least 60 percent of Iraq's 24 million people. But conditions remained dire. Iraq's infant and child population was especially hard hit. U.N. reports say 2,690 to 5,357 died each month from water-borne and malnutrition-related diseases.
Under council resolutions, sanctions cannot be lifted until U.N. inspectors certify that Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons have been destroyed along with the long-range missiles to deliver them.
But the United States has deployed its own inspectors to search for weapons of mass destruction -- and Negroponte made clear yesterday that the Bush administration doesn't want U.N. inspectors to return any time soon.
Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said he didn't see "any adversarial arrangement" between his inspectors and the U.S.-led coalition's teams.
"We're all interested in finding the truth about the situation, whatever it is," he said.
"But at the same time I am also convinced that the world and the Security Council . . . would like to have inspection and verification which bear the imprint of an independent institution."
Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov said his country supported lifting sanctions. But he said Russia wants U.N. inspectors -- the only ones in the world with "expertise" on nuclear, biological, chemical and missile issues -- to certify that Iraq has been disarmed, as required under U.N. resolutions.
Asked about the French proposal, he said: "We are ready to discuss it."
Germany's U.N. Ambassador Gunter Pleuger agreed, saying there should be coordination between the U.N. inspectors and U.S. teams.
De La Sabliere told The Associated Press he envisioned sanctions being suspended "for a couple of months," and possibly renewed. He also envisions U.S. and U.N. inspectors working together. "And then sanctions could be lifted when a legitimate Iraqi government is in place."
In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the French proposal "may be a move . . . in the right direction, some beginning of understanding that the situation is different.
"But the situation is so much different that there is no need for the sanctions any more, and we need all to look at how they can be lifted, and how the Iraqi people can go back to a normal relationship with the world."
At another meeting, the council heard from Benon Sevan, head of the oil-for-food program, who called for an extension of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's authority over humanitarian contracts until June 3 to speed relief to the Iraqi people.
His office announced earlier yesterday that U.N. agencies have identified more than $450 million in priority humanitarian contracts that can be transported to Iraq before the May 12 deadline.
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