Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 127

Sadly for LUKoil, the odds seem slim that UN Security Council members will reach an agreement in the near future to lift the sanctions on Iraq. The council has been deeply divided over policy toward Baghdad since the launching of U.S. and British airstrikes on Iraq last December. That event followed Iraq’s refusal to comply with UN weapons inspections. In the wake of the airstrikes, Baghdad made it clear that the UN weapons inspection agency–UNSCOM–would not be allowed back in the country. Permanent UN Security Council members Russia, China and France now favor the immediate lifting of all sanctions on Iraq and the replacement of UNSCOM with a new disarmament agency with less intrusive monitoring authority. The United States, by contrast, supports a recent British-Dutch proposal calling for the suspension of the oil embargo, but only after a new arms monitoring agency declares that Iraq has met the UN’s disarmament requirements.

Although the British-Dutch proposal represents a significant easing of the U.S. and British positions on sanctions and Iraq’s disarmament, it has been rejected out of hand by both Baghdad and Moscow. The wide gulf between the positions of the two Security Council blocs, despite months of their wrangling over the issue, suggests that UN policy toward Iraq will remain hamstrung for some time to come. Moscow’s continuing stridency over Iraq, moreover, was demonstrated anew earlier last month when Russia’s UN ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, launched yet another in a series of venomous and unseemly attacks on UNSCOM and its chairman, Richard Butler. This time the occasion concerned small amounts of some dangerous chemicals left behind by UNSCOM agents when they departed from Baghdad before last December’s U.S. and British airstrikes (Reuters, AP, June 1; New York Times, June 2).

The Security Council’s ongoing deadlock over Iraq could mean that the Kremlin will face new pressures–from nationalists and communists at home as well as from the government in Baghdad–to unilaterally defy the sanctions regime. Hardliners in Russia have long called for Moscow to do just that, and the acrimonious battle waged between Russia and NATO over policy in the Balkans may give them some additional ammunition. Russian politicians of all stripes have accused NATO of violating the UN Charter by launching airstrikes against Yugoslavia, and the Kremlin’s political opposition may now urge the Russian government to itself defy the UN by moving forward on economic deals with Iraq.