Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 101

Last week’s U.S.-Russia talks and the possible onset of warmer relations between Moscow and Washington appears to have had little immediate impact on differences between the two countries in one important area: the reformulation of UN policy toward Iraq. That fact was made plain on May 21, when Russia’s UN ambassador unexpectedly tabled a draft UN resolution on Iraq that will now compete with a British draft–one that has U.S. backing–submitted to council members for consideration last week. Diplomatic sources in New York suggested that the Russian draft merely reprises a document submitted to the council by Moscow last December and that it has no chance of being approved. The Russian move does suggest, however, that Washington and Moscow had failed even to coordinate their positions regarding Iraq policy during last week’s Washington talks. More important, perhaps, the Russian move could further complicate the effort by London and Washington to win quick approval for the British draft.

Indeed, it is the pressure for quick approval that London and Washington have exerted on other UN Security Council permanent members that appears to be a major source of opposition on the council to the British measure. The British and U.S. governments hope to have the British draft approved by May 31, before the next phase of the UN-Iraq oil-for-food program begins on June 4. Council members and long-time Baghdad supporters Russia, China and France have suggested, however, that the British draft was sprung on them and that the complexity of the program it outlines will require long and careful consideration before approval can be given. These same three countries claim to have numerous questions about the British draft, particularly with regard to a long list of military and dual-use items that are to be prohibited from going to Iraq. “We have quite a number of questions, starting with a list, which we are invited to endorse and which is not yet made available,” Russian UN Ambassador Sergei Lavrov said yesterday. Lavrov did appear, however, to make it clear that Moscow was not rejecting the British draft proposal outright. “On the contrary,” he said, “we want a serious–and I stress a serious–and constructive discussion of the UK draft, but we feel even at this stage that this will involve more time than is left before June 4.”

Russia, China and France have, in fact, long argued for an easing of sanctions on Iraq not unlike what is outlined in the British draft resolution. But Russia appears, for the time being at least, to be arguing instead for another extension of the six-month oil-for-food program and for discussions on a comprehensive revamping of the UN’s Iraq sanctions to be negotiated during that period. The draft resolution released by Moscow on May 21, meanwhile, contains elements not found in the British proposal. They include a call for an automatic release of blocked contracts for Iraq within sixty days (the United States has put some US$3 billion worth of projects on hold); for a legalization of non-Iraqi passenger and cargo flights in and out of the country that goes further than does the British draft; for a reaffirmation of Iraq’s right to the unrestricted use of commercial flights, sea and railway transport; and for a lower rate of compensation required of Iraq to pay Gulf War victims. All of these demands are likely to be on the table as negotiations heat up at the UN in the coming weeks. France, meanwhile, has reportedly taken the first cut at producing a compromise agreement. It is expected today to circulate to Security Council members a list containing proposed changes to the British-U.S. plan (AP, May 22-23; Reuters, BBC, New York Times, May 23).