Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 98

Initial reactions to a British proposal aimed at revising the UN sanctions regime on Iraq suggest that Moscow is likely once again to emerge as the leader of opposition on the UN Security Council to U.S. and British efforts to resuscitate the sanctions and to return UN weapons inspectors to Iraq. That, at least, was the clear implication on May 17 when a senior Russian diplomat criticized the British proposal–one that has American backing–and went out of his way to deny reports that Russia had lined up behind the proposal. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ordzhonikidze told reporters that it is “clearly premature to speak of Russian support for this initiative.” Ordzhonikidze also complained that the British proposal had “too many unclear points” and that London had not provided answers to questions Moscow posed “in the course of preliminary consultations.”

The Russian reaction suggests that, for the time being at least, the change of presidential administrations in Washington and the launching of yet another effort to reformulate UN policy toward Baghdad have done little to bridge wide differences among the UN’s permanent Security Council members on the question of policy toward Iraq. Over the past several years, and particularly since the December 1998 bombing raids by the United States and Britain on Iraq, the United States and Russia have been found at the head of opposing camps within the Security Council on this contentious issue. The United States, together with Britain, has taken a harder line toward Baghdad, resisting any early lifting of sanctions and emphasizing the importance of re-imposing a robust weapons inspection regime on Iraq. Russia, on the other hand, has led a group within the council which has sought to accommodate Baghdad by seeking a quick lifting of sanctions, by proposing a less stringent arms inspection regime and by opposing continued U.S. and British air strikes in the so-called “no–fly zones” over northern and southern Iraq. Among the five permanent Security Council members, China and France have typically backed Russia, though Paris has at times drifted into the U.S.-British orbit.

Reactions yesterday to the British proposal suggested that UN Security Council permanent members are breaking down in much the same way this time around. China offered milder criticism of the British plan than Russia did, but like Moscow suggested that it was lacking in details. France, meanwhile, was said to have reacted positively to aspects of the British plan, but appeared likely to push for allowing foreign investments in Iraq–a position that both London and Washington oppose. The reactions of Moscow, Beijing and Paris suggested that the British proposal is likely to be the subject of intense and difficult negotiations in the weeks to come. British officials said yesterday that they might present a draft resolution to UN Security Council members for discussion as early as today. London and Washington are said to be aiming at getting a vote on the measure by May 31, before the next six-month phase of the UN’s humanitarian oil-for-food program begins on June 4.

In substantive terms, the British proposal seeks to recast the sanctions regime by removing restrictions on civilian imports into Iraq while establishing strict and carefully targeted controls against the entry of defense related or “dual use” items. The plan would also require Iraq to allow the resumption of UN weapons inspections before any sanctions could be lifted and would reject Iraqi demands that money earned from oil sales be turned over to Baghdad. An official Iraqi newspaper made clear yesterday that Baghdad would reject the British plan (New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, May 17; Nezavisimaya Gazeta, May 18).