Security Council rebuffs U.S. bid to condemn Iraq %o Washington says flights for religious pilgrims violated sanctions


UNITED NATIONS -- In a setback for the United States, the Security Council issued a statement yesterday that did not condemn Iraq for violating sanctions by flying a group of Muslims to Saudi Arabia last week without United Nations permission so they could make the pilgrimage to Mecca.

After four days of tortuous diplomacy, the council issued a unanimous statement that failed to say whether the flight violated sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 or deliver even the mildest rebuke to Iraq after China and Egypt, with varying degrees of support from Russia and France, took a firm stand against criticizing Baghdad.

President Saddam Hussein issued a defiant statement in Baghdad Monday saying Iraq had only "exercised its inherent right to use its civilian aircraft," calling America's position "illegal, tendentious and arbitrary" and warning that he reserves the right to fly planes again.

The statement yesterday failed to reflect the vigorous denunciations of the flight issued last week by the U.S. representative, Bill Richardson, who called it a "flagrant violation" of sanctions. It even fell short of a mildly critical draft circulated earlier that had expressed the council's "concern" over Iraq's action.

Instead, the statement recalled that Iraq had originally asked the Security Council committee overseeing sanctions for permission to fly pilgrims to Saudi Arabia and also to release $50 million in frozen funds held by Persian Gulf countries to cover their expenses.

The committee replied that it would be better placed to consider such a request if it came from a country willing to release funds to pay the pilgrims' costs.

The statement said: "The government of Iraq proceeded with this particular flight without specific consultation with the committee. Such consultation would have allowed the committee to consider the matter and to determine whether the flight required committee approval under the relevant resolutions."

The council urged all member nations to meet their obligations under these resolutions and underlined "its respect for the obligation of Muslims to perform the pilgrimage."

Members have not yet considered a far more serious list of accusations against Iraq drawn up last week by the U.N. commission charged with eliminating Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

Pub Date: 4/17/97

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