Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 69

Enduring deep divisions among the five permanent UN Security Council members were reportedly highlighted yesterday during a meeting devoted to UN disarmament and sanctions policy toward Baghdad. The council’s efforts in that regard have been hamstrung since last December’s U.S. and British air attacks on Iraq. Russia, France and China opposed the strikes, and have more generally called for both easing sanctions on Iraq and implementing a less intrusive arms monitoring regime in that country. The United States and Britain have in large part opposed such recommendations.

In an effort to break this diplomatic logjam, the Security Council in January created three expert panels charged with making recommendations on the disarmament program, the humanitarian situation in Iraq and the status of missing Kuwaitis and looted Kuwaiti property. The panels issued their reports last week and presented key recommendations to the council yesterday (AP, April 8).

That tensions on the Security Council have not dissipated was made clear during yesterday’s closed-door meeting when Russia’s UN ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, objected immediately to the presence of UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) Chairman Richard Butler. Moscow has waged a virtual propaganda war against the Australian diplomat, accusing him, among other things, of unprofessionalism and of conducting UNSCOM’s affairs in a fashion prejudicial to Iraq. Butler has vehemently denied the charges. Although he has said that he will step down at the end of his term this June, Moscow has continued to call for his immediate ouster. Apparently reacting to Lavrov’s objections, Butler reportedly left yesterday’s meeting (Washington Post, April 8).

Yesterday’s talks represent a first sally in what is likely to be a long and contentious battle over the formulation of a new UN policy toward Iraq. Lavrov indicated yesterday that Moscow–most likely with the support of Paris and Beijing–will continue to push for a new and less intrusive arms monitoring system and a loosening of sanctions. The sanctions regime it supports would continue controls over weapons but allow a free trade in civilian goods (Washington Post, AP, April 8). The United States is likely to oppose major portions of such a program.

Russia and the United States are also likely to clash anew over continued U.S. and British air actions in Iraq’s “no-fly” zones. On April 6 the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement calling for an end to the “illegal” actions of the U.S. and British air forces in Iraq. It described the patrolling of the no-fly zones by the U.S. and British planes as “illegitimate,” particularly because, in Moscow’s view, “they inflict damage upon a peaceful population and upon the civilian infrastructure in Iraq” (Russian agencies, April 6).

Various Russian and French concerns have signed a series of potentially lucrative business contracts with Iraq–particularly in the oil sector–that can be activated only after the lifting of UN sanctions on Baghdad. Russia, which had strong ties to Iraq during the Soviet period, has also viewed friendly relations with Baghdad as one of the ways by which it can reassert its influence in the Persian Gulf.