Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 225

Moscow finds itself on the hotseat this week as Security Council members continue their months-long effort to formulate a new UN policy toward Iraq. Russia joined China and Malaysia in abstaining on a Council vote this past Friday (December 3) which approved a resolution extending the UN’s oil-for-food humanitarian program in Iraq for an additional week. France, which along with Russia and China has generally defended Iraq’s interests on the Council, chose to sit out the vote altogether as a sign of protest. The three abstentions and the French nonvote underlined anew enduring divisions among Security Council members over Iraq. The United States had pushed for the one-week extension in an effort to keep the pressure on all Council members to reach agreement finally on a separate, comprehensive Security Council policy toward Iraq (AP, EFE, Reuters, December 3). Russia, ironically, appears to bear much of the responsibility for the current deadlock. Council members had been prepared several weeks earlier to approve a standard six-month extension of the oil-for-food program. But Russia had crossed them up at the last minute by demanding that the terms of the extended program be made sweeter for Baghdad (see the Monitor, November 23). That move left the Council at an impasse and opened the door first for a two-week extension of the oil-for-food program, and then for Friday’s follow-up one-week prolongation.

The wrangle over the status of the oil-for-food program is but part of a broader battle over who will shape a more comprehensive Security Council policy toward Iraq. At stake right now is a British-Dutch resolution–backed by Washington–which would permit a suspension of UN sanctions against Iraq only after Baghdad permits the return of UN arms inspectors and demonstrates its willingness to work with them and to fulfill UN disarmament requirements. Conversely, Russia and China (and until recently France as well) favor a softer approach which would not tie the suspension of sanctions to specific disarmament targets (Reuters, November 30, December 2). That position appears to be in the minority right now among the Council’s total fifteen permanent and nonpermanent members. Recent reports, moreover, suggest that among the five permanent members France has shifted its stance and is now more closely aligned with the British-U.S. position (UPI, AFP, December 2). Iraq, meanwhile, has demanded the lifting of UN sanctions without any conditions, though recent reports out of Baghdad suggest that the Iraqi leadership might accept new arms inspections if sanctions were first suspended.

Moscow, which has been Baghdad’s most fervent defender, feels the heat now due to both the erosion of support for its position on the Council and growing pressure at the UN more generally for the Council at last to come up with a comprehensive policy toward Iraq. Council members have been deadlocked since last December’s U.S. and British air attacks on Iraq, after which the Iraqi leadership ruled out any return of UN arms inspectors. Washington, moreover, may also be trying to ratchet up the pressure on Moscow. If press reports are to be believed, the Clinton administration has threatened to walk away from months of intensive negotiations over Iraq unless an agreement on the resumption of arms inspections is reached this month (Washington Post, November 20; Reuters, December 2). U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov have reportedly conferred frequently in recent days in an effort to work out differences between the two countries.