Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 11

UN Security Council members remained deeply divided over the weekend despite a trio of proposals offered late last week aimed at forging a new consensus on policy toward Iraq in the wake of last month’s U.S. and British air strikes (see the Monitor, January 15). The last of the three proposals–which Russia submitted on January 15–was immediately rejected by the United States. The proposal called for abolishing the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) in charge of disarming Iraq, and replacing it with a new “Monitoring Center” which a committee of Security Council members would control closely. The new center would be located in New York and maintain an office in Baghdad. It would farm out the task of monitoring arms in Iraq to various international agencies, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and The Hague-based Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The Russian proposal, which UN ambassador Sergei Lavrov circulated, also called for ending sanctions on Iraqi exports, including oil. It sought to lift a stipulation in an earlier UN resolution which linked the oil embargo against Baghdad to the complete disarmament of Iraq. In that regard, the Russian proposal built on a plan the French submitted, also last week, which called for both lifting the oil embargo on Iraq and instituting a arms new surveillance regime to ensure that Saddam Hussein does not rearm his country. In an effort to counter the French proposal, the United States then offered its own initiative, one which would permit Baghdad to sell unlimited amounts of oil while ensuring that any proceeds go toward buying food and medicine for Iraqis. Baghdad, not surprisingly, rejected the U.S. plan.

The United States rejected both the French and Russian proposals, arguing that they were based on a false assumption: that the disarmament process in Iraq is complete. Deputy U.S. ambassador to the UN Peter Burleigh told reporters that the United States believes both UNSCOM and IAEA should continue their operations in Iraq, and that Security Council members should now be considering how best to get personnel from those two organizations back into Iraq (AP, Reuters, Russian agencies, January 15-16; UPI, January 15).

The Russian proposal reflects Moscow’s long-standing support for Baghdad and its oft-repeated criticism of UNSCOM and its chief, Australian diplomat Richard Butler. Russia’s January 15 document, moreover, charged that “the use of force by the United States and United Kingdom against Iraq resulted in the actual termination of UNSCOM activities.” The new arms monitoring center Moscow proposed would be far less intrusive than UNSCOM. It would also presumably mean an end to surprise inspections for any banned weapons systems in Iraq. It would be staffed in a manner aimed at ending what Baghdad and Moscow say has been inordinate U.S. and British influence within UNSCOM.

Last week’s proposal represented the first concrete effort by UN Security Council members to reach a new Iraq policy in the wake of last month’s U.S. and British air strikes. The sharp divergence, however, between the Russian-French (and Chinese) positions, on the one hand, and those of the United States and Britain, on the other, suggests that a consensus on Iraq remains a long way off.