Security Council is torn over Iraq sanctions Some members find U.S. too stubborn on demands


With the United Nations' chief weapons inspector going to Iraq in two weeks for another round of negotiations over Baghdad's refusal to allow full access to suspect sites, the Security Council appears to be more paralyzed than it has been on any issue since the end of the Cold War.

Diplomats inside the United Nations and independent analysts in a number of countries are beginning to raise alarms about the damage this issue may do to the council, which some see as ineffective because of the policies of its member countries, especially the United States.

Saying that its people are suffering badly, Iraq is demanding that the United Nations lift the sanctions it imposed after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

But blocked by Washington from modifying the sanctions in any way, the Security Council has lately lurched from one ineffectual statement to another, warning Iraq that it must open all sites to inspectors from the U.N. special commission and cooperate fully with its chairman, Richard Butler. Butler is to return to Baghdad in about two weeks for more talks on the issue.

U.S. position unsupported

Many diplomats say that it will be impossible for the United States to win support for strong action against Iraq unless President Saddam Hussein provokes a confrontation greater than he did in October, when he temporarily barred Americans from the inspection teams.

"Iraq is very adroitly taking advantage of the council divisions," said Park Soo Gil, South Korea's representative to the United Nations, who has stepped down from a two-year term on the council.

"The many resolutions and statements on unrestricted access begin to affect the credibility of the council," he said. "Yet Iraq keeps carving out more off-limit areas."

Russia and China, which as permanent members of the council are crucial to any solution of the issue, have in recent weeks become more openly critical of the lack of progress toward ending sanctions and more skeptical that Iraq really has the dangerous weapons Washington fears.

Russia's envoy, Sergey Lavrov, is viewed by many as the most experienced and effective council debater on this issue.

European diplomats say that France, while stopping short of public criticism of the United States, is frustrated by the Clinton administration's uncompromisingly tough stands on continuing a full range of sanctions until numerous conditions are met.

The Americans, diplomats say, are micro-managing the relief program that allows Iraq to sell limited quantities of oil to buy food and medicine.

The United States, which insists that Iraq comply fully with council resolutions and that it allow inspectors access to any site, has led the council into a brick wall, one diplomat said, and Washington refuses to find a way over or around it.

Recently, officials said, the United States blocked the shipment to Iraq of whole-cream powdered milk for children on the ground that it could have laboratory use.

Washington fears that Hussein has continued trying to make weapons of mass destruction and has maintained a secret biological weapons program. This was only one of many purchases relief officials support that will not reach Iraq because of Washington's intervention.

Sanctions are hurting

Iraq has been under a comprehensive embargo since the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and, in part because Hussein repeatedly rejected the oil-for-food plan until late last year, Iraqi civilians are suffering.

In a development that makes the work of the council even more prone to tensions, the severe shortages in Iraq -- in particular the lack of medicine and nutritional food supplements for children -- are beginning to be criticized within the U.N. Secretariat, where international civil servants who carry out Security Council directives rarely question them openly.

But because the oil-for-food program brought with it U.N. monitors to see that goods were distributed fairly, many officials are seeing Iraq firsthand and for the first time, and they are saying that no matter who is to blame, many Iraqis find themselves in a tragic situation that should not be tolerated for any reason.

Only the Security Council can change it.

Echoing the sharp criticisms of private relief organizations and lately UNICEF, the U.N. Children's Fund, Denis Halliday, the new coordinator for the monitors in Iraq, recently told reporters in Baghdad that the goods Iraq is permitted to buy with its $2 billion in oil every six months are not adequate.

Critical report

A group of international figures, concerned by what they see as the Security Council's dwindling ability to act in the face of crisis until the situation is out of control, recently wrote a report on the trend and offered recommendations to correct it.

The group's chairman was Lord Carrington, a former British foreign secretary and NATO secretary-general.

Lavrov, the Russian envoy, was part of the team, as was Brent Scowcroft, a former U.S. national security adviser. The report was published in December by the U.N. Association.

"At critical points, under immense pressure, the members of the Security Council -- in establishing an indiscriminate arms embargo on all of the former Yugoslavia, in declaring but not defending 'safe havens' in Bosnia, in ignoring widening genocide in Rwanda, and in pursuing a single powerful warlord in Somalia -- have made such unrealistic or egregious choices as to RTC undermine international confidence in both the judgment and the authority of the council itself," says the report, "Words to Deeds: Strengthening the U.N.'s Enforcement Capabilities."

"Bad decisions will yield bad results, even if improved mechanisms were to ensure that they are efficiently achieved," it said.

Pub Date: 1/04/98

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