Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 174

Despite disavowals by U.S. and British officials yesterday, UN Security Council members are reportedly getting closer to a deal on the principles which will define the UN’s relationship to Iraq. This policy has been paralyzed by differences among the five permanent UN Security Council members since U.S. and British air strikes on Iraq last December led to a collapse of the UN’s arms monitoring system in Baghdad. Since then, the council has been divided into two groups. A pro-Baghdad faction led by Russia, France and China has called for the establishment of a new, less intrusive arms control regime in Iraq and a subsequent suspension of sanctions on Iraqi imports of civilian goods (Reuters, September 15).

The United States and Britain, meanwhile, lead a second group which has taken a harder line on the sanctions issue. Washington and London had lined up behind a draft British-Dutch resolution which would suspend only the UN embargo on Iraqi exports–including oil–and that only after Baghdad demonstrates compliance with a more rigorous arms monitoring regime. More recent reports have suggested that Washington and London may have agreed also to at least discuss the issue of suspending sanctions on all Iraqi imports of civilian goods. That concession, however, is conditional on France, Russia and China accepting that Iraq first comply for several months with the new arms monitoring system (Reuters, AP, September 11, 14-16).

Earlier reports had suggested that the British-Dutch proposal enjoyed the support of Washington and all or most of the Security Council’s ten nonpermanent members. The hold-outs, not surprisingly, were Russia, France and China. According to U.S. officials yesterday, the latest concession by Washington and London had narrowed differences with France and had left Russia as the primary obstacle to a deal on Iraq (Reuters, September 21).

Moscow has been Baghdad’s most vocal supporter, and has repeatedly called not only for a quick lifting of sanctions, but also for an end to U.S. and British air actions in Iraq’s “no-fly zones.” It is no accident that a number of Russian companies (like their French counterparts) have signed lucrative contracts to rebuild and develop Iraq’s oil industry. But those contracts can be consummated only after the lifting of UN sanctions.

Yesterday’s developments came after a meeting of American, British, Russian, French and Chinese officials at the UN in New York. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov had also discussed Iraq during their own meeting a day earlier. According to a French diplomat yesterday, the five permanent Security Council members could include an agreement on principles for dealing with Iraq in a joint communique to be issued after their traditional lunch with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan tomorrow. That might move them closer to a final agreement on Iraq. However, U.S. and British officials were less positive in their assessment of the chances for a diplomatic breakthrough (Reuters, September 21).